Each word seems so carefully considered that the prose itself seems spectral; all information to which we have access seems the ghostly residue of a repressed meaning. This is an almost silent prose, but this is a cacophonous silence; a silence that speaks volumes …
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 … In an age of global migration Li’s redemptive stories hold up a beacon of hope to those longing for a safer, happier future.
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.
The volume offers glimpses of strong women – every one of whom subverts orientalist cliché in some way – through sensual and compressed prose.
The stories are beautifully told. Li is expert at using telling details of situations and conversations to imply underlying tensions and cultural differences. She knows well what it is like to have, as one of the four sections of the book is titled, ‘Two tongues’, and two very different perspectives of the world.
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.
… Isabelle Li’s mesmerising meditation—written and spoken in the limpid and lapidary prose, the gentle austerity of voice characteristic of her—on reading and writing, on learning and loving a second language, on words as metaphors and words as living things. And on poetry.
But the real standout is Two Tongues, Isabelle Li’s subtle, complex and quite lovely story about translation and seduction.
Isabelle Li’s highly commended story, ‘Red Saffron’, is about a seduction, and is itself a seduction to the reader, via food; she writes of beetroot and asparagus as if they’re not only vegetables but weapons, kisses, chemicals and provocations.
‘Red Saffron’ by Isabelle Li also stands out for taking on new ground. It is an unusual, elegantly written piece that canvasses an array of ideas from food, to religion, to poetry, to infidelity. It is Li’s achievement that she can make her unsympathetic narrator so compelling and interesting. The character’s wit, keen observation and unflinching self-possession seduces the reader, as it will no doubt also seduce her next intended conquest.
…the language…is as richly sensual as the recipes that the narrator cooks. Humour, inherent throughout the story, invites us to submit to the ploy of a first person character without scruples, and wedded only to bliss, and to just enjoy the experience…
This is a beautifully written piece presented in the form of a series of unsent emails… The evocative descriptions of the tropical heat and lush surroundings are shadowed by the narrator’s memories of this affair and the tangle of emotions involved.
Isabelle Li’s Narrative of Grief – About sadness in the body. I envy the dignity and directness of this piece.
Exquisitely drawn, the narrative takes the reader from the working-class suburbs of Sydney to the leafy possibilities of the Blue Mountains. With a subtlety that deserves to be applauded, Li weaves a taste of suspense throughout. Then, in a whimsically uplifting manner, the end rings of heart without fuss, joy without sentimentality. ‘Lyrebird’ left me sated and awestruck.