“Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” by Yiyun Li
First, I’ll be honest and admit that the number of Chinese authors I’ve read works by is minimal. In fact, it’s like… zero. Which is a total shame, and one I intend to remedy.
Second, I read this book in a way I’ve never read a book before — I checked it out from the Chicago Public Library in e-book form to read on my Kindle. Thank goodness libraries are getting into the digital book game. Downloading the book was super easy, and I had 21 days to finish reading it.
“Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” is the Spring 2012 One Book, One Chicago selection, which is why I read it. It’s always interesting to me to see which books are selected by this program, and this one is stellar. (As are most of their selections, though based on the Fall 2012 selection I don’t think I’m a Saul Bellow fan. Oh well.)
In this collection of nine very modern short stories about ordinary, everyday Chinese folk, the lines between tradition and contemporary society are examined. Li writes delicately, but without extraneous language and detail as she quickly tells the story of a young woman in the army, a detective agency made up of elderly women, a man and a woman on an arranged date, a frustrated artist who becomes obsessed with a young woman’s blog about her adulterer father, and some others. None of these experiences are strictly Chinese — they could, with a few minor adjustments, happen to anyone in any country.
I’m glad I read the book for many reasons — Really, it’s just a good read — but most importantly for the story called “Prison.” This tale, about a middle-aged woman who hires a young surrogate to carry her new baby after the death of a previous child, wrecked me. Maybe it’s because I’m a new mom, but this story is going to stay with me for a long, long time. I find myself growing upset at tales of missing or lost children, and “Prison” plays on a mother’s sympathies, Chinese or not.
Yiyun Li’s book is the focus of many programs around Chicago this spring. Check out the 1B1C link above to get in on the action.
And remember – with a Chicago Public Library card, you can read this one for free!