Sarah's Stars

Sally Rippin. Chenxi and the Foreigner
Annick $10.95  ISBN 978-1-55451-172-3  206 pg.
Reviewed by Lindsey, Age 15

Far below, along Zhong Shan Lu and past the street market, was the Shanghai College of Fine Arts. And, if you paused to look through the high iron gates, you might see a single bulb burning in the classroom on the second floor, where, having cooked for his mother, and after tucking the exhausted woman into bed, Chenxi sat meditating on his painting. A new painting he had just began that evening. A painting of a girl.

On the other side of Shanghai, the subject of Chenxi's new painting sat down on her bed in the air-conditioned apartment that overlooked Fuxing Park. She took out her journal to gather her thoughts.

It's spring in the 1980's. Shanghai is already hotter than California ever gets in the summer. Anna White, a native of San Francisco, is visiting her nearly-estranged father, a successful businessman, in China. To keep occupied, she studies traditional Chinese painting at a nearby college. Unlike her father who seems determined to avoid the Chinese culture, Anna dives right in, sampling noodles instead of lounging by the consulate pool and wandering the bloody streets of the meat markets, rather than staying inside her air-conditioned hotel room and watching TV. But soon enough, she falls in love with her student guide, Chenxi. Chenxi (pronounced chen-see) is everything Anna is not. Whereas Anna is voluptuous, fair and ignorant, Chenxi is tough, dark and controlled. The two forge a tentative bond over their mutual love of painting and drawing, but when Anna unwittingly gets Chenxi in trouble with the Chinese government, she must choose between true love and learning to let go.

Chenxi, while not the best book I've ever read, was a very absorbing read. The atmosphere of an oppressive, yet beautiful China was the perfect backdrop for the blossoming love between Chenxi and Anna. Yet, unlike other love stories, I didn't ever really cheer for the couple to get together. Anna and Chenxi were well rounded but I didn't feel a connection between them. I thought that the other elements of the story, like the art classes, the trip to Chenxi's aunt and the conflict with Anna's father were very interesting, but I really didn't actually appreciate the romance. But the unique situations, the stirring descriptions and the tangible culture and history that seeped through the words on the page still added up to a quick, enjoyable read that will get the reader thinking.

The sad, yet hopeful ending was disappointing but poignant enough that it warrants four stars.


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