Two star-crossed lovers intersect beneath the eyes of a translator, who, like the reader, is increasingly drawn into the whirlpool of their love, the swirls gradually enveloping them as they drown beneath the tragic fate which Guo creates for them. ‘I Am China’ covers a number of themes; from the loneliness of the long-distance translator, the morose Iona, lumbering lachrymosely beneath a haze of emotional emptiness, only to be jolted to life via translating the epistolary romance between two strangers, Mu and Jian. Equally, Mu and Jian are labouring beneath the unbearable weight of alienation; firstly the political angst felt by Jian, whose recalcitrance against the totalitarian Chinese state .leads to his exile and a deeper sense of isolation as he find himself far away from the familiar sights and smells of China and more importantly his lover Mu.
Stripped of it’s obvious political machinations, the novel is about characters who are desperately in search of meaning; whether it be slam poetry, punk rock or Russian literature, each character pirouettes between one ideal to another, desperate to find and forge their path in the world, whether it be in a rain-soaked French town, or the gloomy skies of a London sky sundering a man from his lover. However, the most meaningful connection the characters are able to crate with one another is love; the love of Mu and Jian jolts Iona from her isolated and somewhat empty existence, the gradual disintegration of their relationship acting as the mystery which she is desperate to unravel.
Indeed, the stronger, more sympathetic and rounded characters are the Chinese ones; from the disaffected Chinese restaurant worker who longs for home and a path of earth, to Mu and Jian and their explorations of the West, there is a sense of superficiality in the characterisation the English characters, a sense of emptiness permeates he milieu in which they exist. ‘I am China’ is a powerful rejoinder against totalitarianism, against the isolation of immigration, of the emptiness of life beneath the bright city lights and nacreous London sky whose superficial sky disguises the absence of love which has punctuated the lives of the characters.