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Reading Club

That Man in Our Lives


Xu Xi


Dr Stacilee Ford, HKU


23 March 2017 (Thursday)


6:30 - 8:00 pm


Special Collections, 1/F, Main Library, The University of Hong Kong



Click here to re-visit the book talk That Man in Our Lives


About the Speaker

Photo of XU XI 許素細

Photo by Leslie Lausch.

XU XI 許素細 is author of eleven books, most recently the novel That Man In Our Lives (C&R Press, September 2016); Interruptions (Hong Kong University Museum & Art Gallery,/Columbia Univ. Press, September, 2016), a collaborative ekphrastic essay collection in conversation with photography by David Clarke; Habit of a Foreign Sky (Haven Books, 2010), a finalist for the Man Asian Literary Prize; the story collection Access Thirteen Tales (Signal 8 Press, 2011). Forthcoming books include; a memoir Elegy for HK (Penguin, March/April 2017) and Insignificance: Stories of Hong Kong (Signal 8 Press, 2018). She has also edited four anthologies of Hong Kong writing in English. Since 2002, she has taught for low-residency MFA programs including at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA where she was elected and served as faculty chair, and at City University of Hong Kong where she was appointed Writer-in-Residence and founded and directed Asia’s first and only low-residency MFA. From January to May, 2016, she was Distinguished Visiting Writer-in-Residence at Arizona State University’s Virginia G. Piper Center of Creative Writing. She is co-founder, with author Robin Hemley, of Authors At Large, offering international writing retreats and workshops. An Indonesian-Chinese Hong Kong native and U.S. citizen, she currently lives between New York and Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram @xuxiwriter.


About the Book

Book Cover of That Man in Our Lives

THAT MAN IN OUR LIVES released in September by C&R Press in the U.S. has quickly generated positive buzz. Long awaited by Xu Xi’s fans and readers worldwide, this latest work by the international novelist extends the universe of her earlier books, with New York as the perch from which she examines the shifting balance of power between the U.S. and China. This tale of lifelong friendships features Gordon (Gordie) Ashberry, a wealthy, dilettante Sinologist – a.k.a. Gord or Hui Guo 灰果 to his two closest friends Harold Haight and Larry Woo – a character in three of Xu’s earlier novels. The story opens in March 2003 when Gordie deliberately disappears during a flight delay in Tokyo. The pre and post fallout around that disappearance informs this drama about the friend who was always around in your and your family’s lives until he isn’t, and how much or little we know of those we think we know well. Originally inspired by John Adam’s opera “Nixon in China,” a large cast of characters traverses the globe in search of this missing protagonist, a Gatsby-ish figure with Chinese characteristics. That Man in Our Lives is Xu’s metafictional response to the Chinese classic novel Dreams of Red Chambers by Cao Xueqin.

Praise for That Man In Our Lives

Other authors speak highly of the novel:
“Beautifully refined in both intelligence and prose,” says Pulitzer Prize in fiction author Robert Olen Butler “this novel will not let a reader put it down.” Novelist & Professor at the University of East Anglia’s creative writing program Vesna Goldsworthy describes it as “a mesmerizing, polyphonic plot . . . written by a truly transnational writer at the height of her powers,” adding that the novel “educates and delights the reader at the same time.” The American Book Award winning writer Alex Kuo calls it “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.” Pulitzer award winner Adam Johnson says that Xu “deepens her explorations of absence, alternate realities, and the elusiveness of identity in our increasingly fragmented world.” American fiction author and faculty chair of the MFA in Writing & Publishing at Vermont College of Fine Arts Trinie Dalton says ”this whole story exudes contemporary updates on The Great Gatsby’s decadence, yearning, and expat experimentation.” 

Reviews have been overwhelming positive:
“As a work of metafiction, That Man prioritizes fragmentation and play over craft and plotlines. It is not in need of any resolution. Like his friends, we may be content with having known him, a man who knew that “the line between illusion and life was, at best, imaginary.” At the end, Xu Xi succeeds in questioning the relationship between fiction and reality, as we never do forget that we are viewing a play.” Hyphen Magazine  January 15, 2017

“With its deft shifts in point of view and its range of voices, places, and ideas, Xu’s novel can feel intentionally frenzied . . . (an) engrossing, whirlwind metafictional tale (that) effectively demonstrates the far-reaching effects of politics and culture on the smallest, most personal aspects of our lives.” Publishers Weekly  September, 2016

“Frays the reliability of the narrative in so many small ways, calling attention to the fraught nature of witnessing . . . it is also a novel which celebrates the pleasure of movement, of lawless mixing of language and register, and of reinvention.” The Asian American Literary Review September 13, 2016

“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.” Asian Review of Books  June 5, 2016


About the Moderator

Photo of Dr Stacilee Ford

Dr Stacilee Ford is an Honorary Associate Professor in the Department of History and the American Studies Program at The University of Hong Kong. She is a cultural historian whose work focuses on the intersection of gender, generation, ethnicity, national identity, and culture. Published works include, Troubling American Women: Gender and National Identity in Hong Kong and Mabel Cheung Yuen-Ting’s “An Autumn’s Tale.” She has taught and written about Xu Xi and her work since the mid-1990s.