After finishing high school, Anna is given the opportunity to spend the summer in Shanghai with her father, a businessman. In Shanghai, Anna takes art classes at a local university. While her father prefers to mingle only with other foreigners, Anna wants to see China from a Chinese perspective. However, doing this is difficult because Anna does not speak Mandarin and does not blend in at all. People commonly stare and say, “wai guo ren,” or foreigner. Worst of all, Anna only seems to complicate the life of her translator, Chenxi. Chenxi is a radical artist, making him a threat to the Chinese government. Soon, Anna learns exactly how repressive China can be.
Chenxi and the Foreigner is a wonderful read. The story takes place in the late 1980s, right before the Tianenmen Square incident. This time period allowed Rippin to give the novel a deeper meaning than just “a story about a girl that visits China in the summer.” Instead, the novel addresses the limits of freedom in China, and how anyone with freedom should not take it for granted. In a way this is a very timely meaning, especially with everything that is going on in Iran. In the novel’s afterword, Rippin discusses that when the first time Chenxi and the Foreigner was written, she was afraid of what what parents, teachers, and librarians would think of the novel. As a result, she ended up self-censoring herself and cut out sex scenes and politics. Luckily, Rippin was given the opportunity to rewrite the novel, and as a result, Chenxi and the Foreigner is not only an enjoyable read, but an important one.
If there’s one thing that I disliked about the novel, it occurs towards the end up the novel when the story takes a surprise turn. In a way, this turn kind of seemed like an easy way out, but overall it did not really affect my opinion of the novel. However, I can see other readers disliking it.