Politics, art and freedom: a review of Chenxi and the foreigner


Author Sally Rippin has written a range of books for kids and teen. Her latest, Chenxi and the foreigner, was published this year. Actually, Rippin originally published this book in 2002, but at the time, she was worried about some of the themes in the book and admits she self-censored the story. The new edition tells the story of Chenxi and Anna as Rippin meant it to be told.

Set in China around the time of the Tiananmin Square massacre, Chenxi and the foreigner tells the story of an Australian girl, Anna, who is at the end of a year off between finishing school and starting uni. She goes to visit her father, a businessman working in Shanghai, to spend time learning about traditional Chinese art and to make some decisions about her future. It’s not long after arriving that Anna’s obsession with Chenxi, the student assigned to be her translator, begins. The novel tells the story of their tumultuous relationship, which develops despite a number of obstacles, including a language barrier, Anna’s naivety, and cultural difference.

Chenxi is a talented artist who longs for artistic and political freedom. Having grown up in Communist China, and having lost his father at an early age at the hands of the Communist regime, Chenxi recognises the true value of freedom: he tells Anna that “In Australia it means nothing to be free”.

The best thing about this book is that Rippin is brave in telling the story: in this new edition, she does not shy away from describing challenging issues and complex situations, both political and personal. This is a thoughtful novel that deals sensitively with Anna and Chenxi’s relationship and with the underlying political narrative.

This is a novel about political and artistic freedom. It is also about choosing and taking charge of your destiny, which we see both Anna and Chenxi do. It’s also about obsession, growing up, stepping out, and standing on your own feet.

Recommended for guys and gals aged 15 and up. While guys might not be interested in the love-aspect of the story, there’s plenty of political tension to keep you interested.

A question for those of you who’ve read this book: Do you think Chenxi loved Anna, or was their relationship just about Anna’s obsession with Chenxi? I’m not sure – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.


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