That Man in Our Lives
by Xu Xi
The Transnational 21st Century Novel
In That Man in Our Lives, New York-Hong Kong author Xu Xi extends the fictional universe of her earlier novels. New York is the perch from which she examines the shifting balance of power between China and the U.S., set against a tale of lifelong friendships between Gordon Ashberry — “Gordie” or “Hui Guo 灰果” — and his two best friends Harold Haight and Larry Woo and their families. Born to wealthy East Coast parents, Gordon is a Sinophile who has never held a job, married or raised children. His one attempt in his thirties to run an aircraft leasing business almost ends in bankruptcy and the loss of his inheritance. When Gordon turns fifty, he tells Harold, a tax lawyer, that he wants to give all his money away. An opportunistic young Chinese writer learns of this, she approaches him to write a book (Honey Money) about his decision, and upon publication it becomes a minor cult success. The ensuing publicity sends him into a self-imposed exile for several years, including from all his friends. The novel opens in March 2003 when Gordon is fifty-five and decides to disappear during a flight delay in Tokyo. The pre and post fallout around that disappearance informs this novel about the friend who has always been in your life, until he isn’t, and how much or little we know of those we think we know well. Originally inspired by John Adams’ opera “Nixon in China,” a large cast of characters traverse the globe in search of this missing protagonist, a Gatsby-ish figure with Chinese characteristics. That Man in Our Lives is Xu’s metafictional answer to the late 18th Century Chinese classic novel, Cao Xueqin’s Dreams of Red Chambers.
“Xu’s engrossing, whirlwind metafictional tale effectively demonstrates the far-reaching effects of politics and culture on the smallest, most personal aspects of our lives.”
–Read the full review HERE
Asian Review of Books:
“That Man In Our Lives is an ambitious, witty and generous novel, which also has enough mystery to keep even somebody with 20th-century tastes turning the pages. It also delivers an Asian perspective on the challenges and opportunities of globalization, while exploring the loss of traditional ideas about the self, and what that loss means for authors and readers.”
–Read the full review HERE
The Asian American Literary Review:
“On one hand, That Man in Our Lives is a mystery with no resolution, a romance with no orgasmic resolution, a story with no center. But it is also a novel which celebrates the pleasure of movement, of lawless mixing of language and register, and of reinvention.”
–Read the full review HERE
Check out this review by Hyphen magazine! a publication that tracks Asian literature.
“With That Man in Our Lives, Xu Xi deepens her explorations of absence, alternate realities, and the elusiveness of identity in our increasingly fragmented world. When Gordon Ashberry vanishes one night at Narita Airport, a global mystery ensues, one in which every avenue of inquiry teasingly leads to a cascade of connections, insights and fractured possibilities. With heart and wisdom, That Man in Our Lives is ultimately an intense examination of the very nature of storytelling.”
– Adam Johnson, Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.
“Xu Xi’s new novel, That Man in Our Lives, brilliantly explores what is perhaps the most fundamental dynamic of our existence, the profound interaction of two forces, one social and one personal: our connectedness with each other and our yearning to find a self. Beautifully refined in both intelligence and prose, this novel will not let a reader put it down.”
– Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
“Xu Xi has done it again. That Man in Our Lives is a metaphysical novel that unravels the real and imagined political and cultural identities of both inhabitants and expatriates in Hong Kong after it weighed its colonial anchor and returned to China in 1997. With candor, wile and wit, the main character Gordie adopts the personae of the Monkey King who unties this knot of ever more complex intimate and public experiences. This is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the merging and intractable financial and cultural intersections between China and the United States, and their everyday impact on their citizens.”
– Alex Kuo, winner of the American Book Award and author of the novel shanghai.shanghai.shanghai
“That Man in Our Lives is a complex and compelling tale of the mysteries of love, friendship, and lives led between China and North America. Xu Xi takes us deep into the two cultures in a mesmerizing polyphonic plot woven around the disappearance of her Gatsby-like central character Gordon Ashberry, a Sinophile scion of a wealthy Connecticut family. Written by a truly transnational writer at the height of her powers, That Man in Our Lives educates and delights the reader at the same time.”
– Vesna Goldsworthy, Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and author of the novel Gorsky
“This whole story exudes contemporary updates on The Great Gatsby’s decadence, yearning, and expat experimentation . . . is technically brilliant for its undulating points of view and diverse chronologies.”
– Trinie Dalton, Author and Educator