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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.

Praise for Xu's 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.”

Fiction author Trinie Dalton says “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.”

Pulitzer in fiction winner Adam Johnson says that “Xu Xi deepens her explorations of absence, alternate realities, and the elusiveness of identity in our increasingly fragmented world . . . with heart and wisdom, That Man in Our Lives is ultimately an intense examination of the very nature of storytelling.”

publications & media

“Here I Am” - The Normal School, California State Univ., Fresno, Spring 2016.
“Mariner” - Hunger Mountain, Montpelier, Vermont, Issue 20, March/April 2016.

“Three Commandments for Writing About Race,” Brevity Nonfiction Blog, September 14, 2016.
“The Crying City” - Bellingham Review, Washington, Spring 2016.


Edited by Jina Ortiz & Rochelle Spencer, with a foreword by Helena Maria Viramontes, this exciting new anthology is, according to Pulitzer fiction author Junot Diaz, "electrifying and absolutely necessary." Xu Xi's work is the title story and the volume features twenty-seven stories by women of color. Published in November, 2014 by the University of Wisconsin press.

ALL ABOUT SKIN named a Ms. Magazine 2014 must-read feminist book of the year.


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In March 2010, Xu Xi was named the first Writer-in-Residence at City University of Hong Kong.

In honor of Kathleen & B.T.