A Chinese Affair
“These sixteen stories present characters who share much, yet are all unique. As if in a kaleidoscope, they continue to be revealed and reinterpreted in different lights and from different angles. Isabelle Li’s prose is powerful, exquisite and finely tuned, and each story draws us deeper into the complex emotional and cultural dilemmas of characters who are solitary, sensitive, perceptive and powerless, sometimes all at once. A Chinese Affair is a beautiful book, elegant and accomplished, and a triumph of the art of the short story.” – Debra Adelaide
About the Book
These sixteen stories present characters who share much, yet are all unique. As if in a kaleidoscope, they continue to be revealed and reinterpreted in different lights and from different angles. Isabelle Li’s prose is powerful, exquisite and finely tuned, and each story draws us deeper into the complex emotional and cultural dilemmas of characters who are solitary, sensitive, perceptive and powerless, sometimes all at once. A Chinese Affair is a beautiful book, elegant and accomplished, and a triumph of the art of the short story. Debra Adelaide
A Chinese Affair brings a new, exciting voice to the Australian literary landscape.
In sixteen exquisite stories, Isabelle Li explores recent Chinese migration to Australia and elsewhere. Some are explicitly connected, through common characters or incidents; in others, the threads are both allusive and elusive—intergenerational and interracial relationships, the weight of history and indebtedness, the search for meaning, and the muteness peculiar to cultural dislocation and the inexpressibility of self in a second language.
The stories explore what it means to leave behind one’s familiar environment and establish a new life, the struggle to survive and thrive, the triumph and compromise, love and heartache, failure and resilience.
Isabelle Li’s stories surprise us with the secrets they reveal, the sensations they convey and the depth of feeling they release. Finely crafted, bitter-sweet, boldly coloured, they mark the arrival of an important presence in the creative flow between China and Australia. Nicholas Jose
Reviews and Press
The Southerly review says, ‘For a debut collection, A Chinese Affair is a sophisticated one, and I’d hazard to guess that Isabelle Li’s distinct distortions of language will be ones to watch for in future.’ Download the full review here
“Li’s stories will hold wide appeal for general readers but especially for those interested in the effect of trauma on memory. Millennial readers may find the protagonists’ resignation and courage inspiring, particularly in stories like ‘Lyrebird’. In an age of global migration Li’s redemptive stories hold up a beacon of hope to those longing for a safer, happier future. The Chinese Londoner counsellor in ‘Narrative of Grief’ laments that ‘There are many who do not want to share their stories for fear of losing them’ (273). Li is not among them.” Mascara Review.
“Crystal is a strange and unpredictable character and her narratives tend to touch on both the thrills, and the frustrations, of self-expression across two langauges. Wherever she appears, Li’s stories sing.” The Saturday Paper.
Margaret Throsby interviews Isabelle Li.
What does it take to master a second language, to be so skilled in that language that you’re published in it ? Listen to Isabelle share this on Pocket Docs
A Chinese Affair deals movingly with important matters: the psychological and social implications of the mass movement of populations across the globe in the 21st century.” Right Now
“Sweet and sour is a combination synonymous with China and this collection of short stories evokes that very response. Flitting back and forth between slices of her life in both Australia and China, a woman chronicles her complex relationships in a way that opens the reader’s eyes to the challenges of living in cultural limbo.”—Café Reporter Magazine
2,2, and 2 : Isablle talks to Amanda Curtin about ‘A Chinese Affair’
The Conversation Hour with Jon Faine.
‘ A Chinese Affair is an enjoyable read. It not only takes its readers to multiple countries but also encourages them to think of the world as a boundless place where nationality or race is a matter of diversity, not division.’ Transnational Literature, Vol. 9, no.1, Nov 2016
‘The stories are beautifully told. Li is expert at using telling details of situations and conversations to imply underlying tensions and cultural differences.’ Ann Skea, Manly Library blog
‘Isabelle Li’s 16 short stories immerse our senses in the depth of feeling, rhythms, and the mysterious elusiveness of poetry, while her easy conversational style focuses on events in the lives of a number of people who have emigrated from China.’ Judith Grace, Good Reading, September 2016.
‘Sydney author Isabelle Li’s debut short story collection is a rich exploration of Chinese culture and language, and the dissonances and mistranslations that result through migration and cross-cultural encounters.”— Seven West Travel Club, The Western Australian, October 2016
Read Isabelle’s contribution to Working with Words .
“Isabelle Li, presents a suite of interconnected tales of Chinese migration to Australia and beyond. The volume offers glimpses of strong women – every one of whom subverts orientalist cliché in some way – through sensual and compressed prose.”—Cameron Woodhead, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, 2 September.
‘A collection of beautifully crafted short stories, each one a powerful insight into the cultural and emotional experience of Chinese immigrants in Australia.’ Sunday Life Magazine, Sun Herald and Sunday Age
‘ Li has a unique writing style and that might be down to her influences. While she cites authors such as W. Somerset Maugham, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Anton Chekhov, her style is also informed by poetic Chinese classical literature. Li points out that poetry is an important part of Chinese culture, and Chinese poetry infuses this collection and her prose. The opening lines of the story Further South exemplify her anything but prosaic style…”QWeekend, The Courier Mail, 23 July
Li’s writing is skillful, and she deftly changes voices, tenses, points of view and even formats to experiment with what her short fiction can do. Characters often appear as the lead in one story, only to turn up in another role a few stories into the book, reinterpreted again and again from many different points of view.”- Emily Paull, July
‘ Li’s prose is sensuous and spare and if one sometimes longs for a much longer sentence to unfurl itself slowly like a scroll or a ribbon, there are exquisite mosaics such as this passage which more than compensate with their fragrant, imagistic clarity.’ The West Australian
‘Li is a welcome new voice …., especially for readers who prefer an unusual structure and gentle tone.”
Books + Publishing.
‘All In That Space: On Asian Australian Writers’. Sydney Review of Books