Xiaolu Guo has been lauded as a “voice . . . speaking with full freedom” (Wall Street Journal), which has made her one of the most acclaimed Chinese-born writers of her generation. She is the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Nine Continents and a Granta Best Young British Novelist. Her new memoir, Radical, is an exploration of a city, an electrically honest rendering of what it means to be an outsider, and the sojourn that upended her sense of self as a woman, partner, mother, and artist.
The world can seem strange and lonely when you step away from your family and everything you have built for yourself. Yet beauty may also appear. In the autumn of 2019, Guo traveled to New York to take up her position as a visiting professor for a year, leaving her child and partner behind in London. What she experienced, however, amidst excursions throughout the city and time spent on her own, was solitude and a destabilizing of self. Her encounter with American culture and people threatened her sense of identity and threw her into a crisis—of meaning, desire, obligation, and selfhood.
Radicals, or bushou, are pictograms that are the building blocks of more complex characters; the “roots” from which the Chinese written language is composed. In this feminist lexicon, as she threads together her search for creative and personal freedom, Guo examines how the same concepts translate (or do not) across cultures, illuminating the integral role language plays in forming our sense of self.
Radical is an individual and etymological journey, and an ardent love letter. It is an expression of one artist’s fascination with Western culture and her nostalgia for Eastern landscapes, and an attempt to describe the space in between.
Praise for Radical:
“Marvelous . . . the problem of living authentically . . . is the book’s central question . . . no image or motif in Radical is accidental or wasted . . . [a] digressive, intellectually rich and stimulating journey.”—Jude Cook, The Guardian
“Guo writes movingly . . . [her] pursuit of space is a radical act and must come at a personal cost, but for her it is essential for living.”—Christiana Bishop, New Statesman (UK)
“[Guo] writes beautifully . . . [she] is the eponymous radical. The feminist, the lover and the artist strain against the demands of motherhood and the obligations of monogamy.”—Cindy Yu, Spectator (UK)
“An elegant and unreserved account of a life lived in full recognition of its possibilities.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A linguistically and structurally avant-garde contribution to the life-writing genre . . . [Guo] penetrates scholarly musings with sharp commentary on women’s oppression, challenging the male gaze with fierce accounts of feminine sexual desire. Readers interested in fragmented, intellectually stimulating discussions of timely topics, including ecofeminism and infotech, will find Guo’s bonding of language with lived experience enticing.”—Booklist
“[A] fascinating memoir . . . Hyperliterate and formally inventive, this often exhilarating memoir lives up to its title and then some.”—Publishers Weekly
“Guo’s writing is tender and raw, and she creates a passionate, intimate vocabulary, exploring the complexity of belonging, nostalgia, and love.”—Riyoko Shibe, The Skinny
“Radical is difficult to describe because it’s difficult to categorise. It might be called a memoir, but its form makes it unlike any memoir readers may have encountered before.”—Shakespeare and Company
“When it comes to spinning light and shadow on the complexities of living, loving and language, Xiaolu Guo is one of the most valuable writers in the world.”—Deborah Levy, author of The Cost of Living
“An etymological voyage that lives up to its title: radical in angle of attack, smart and brave. Making the urban condition of restlessness and pain into poetry.”—Iain Sinclair, author of The Gold Machine
“A wild, passionate, gorgeous book, wandering the borders of language and desire; walking cities and remembering the ghosts of past landscapes. Xiaolu Guo’s books always open up new connections and curiosities for me. She is certainly among my favourite contemporary writers.”—Ayşegül Savaş, author of White on White
“Xiaolu Guo is a writer like no other, and this is a memoir like no other. Organised through a series of words that cut across languages, the book shows the divides and the connections that define a life lived between China, Europe and America, all explained with wit, lightness of touch and the occasional pinch of heartbreak.”—Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford