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Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li
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Gold Boy, Emerald Girl (edition 2011)

by Yiyun Li

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3261733,940 (3.69)27
Member:aarti
Title:Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
Authors:Yiyun Li
Info:Fourth Estate (2011), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
Tags:2012, Short Stories, China

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Gold boy, emerald girl by Yiyun Li

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
I found this a very moving collection. Because each story has such a powerful effect, I didn’t feel I could race through them, one after another. I deliberately spaced out my reading of the stories, so that each one had time to linger in my mind. In fact, I would like to return to them, as although the writing is very easy to read, at the same time each story seems dense, full of details about each character’s life.

The stories are about life in 21st century China, although often the characters are looking back and reflecting on their lives in earlier times. There are some recurring themes: children being born in unusual circumstances, for example involving surrogacy and adoption, and marriages made for reasons other than love. The stories often bring together tradition and modernity; for example, in A Man Like Him, a young woman sets up a blog to denounce her father for ‘the immoral act of having taken a mistress’. House Fire has a similar theme, as a group of older women set up a detective agency to help women whose husbands are having affairs and end up being figures of curiosity filmed for a documentary series, as they uphold the values of another era. In one of my favourite stories, The Proprietress, a young journalist from Shanghai, a representative of modern, urban life, travels to a small town to interview Mrs Jin, who runs the general store and offers help to the women who come to visit their husbands in the nearby jail.

‘Sooner or later they started to talk about their men – fathers, sons, brothers, husbands – similar stories in which the women either believed in the innocence of their loved ones or were readier than the rest of the world to forgive them. Mrs Jin listened, pouring tea and handing them tissues, reminding herself what a lucky woman she was. She shed tears with them, too, and because of the hours she spent sympathising, she charged these women extra for any purchases.’

I liked this story because of Mrs Jin’s moral ambiguity and because I wondered what motivated her to take some of these troubled women to live in her house and to look after them.

Many of the stories convey an uneasy feeling of time passing, often distilling many years into just a few words. Among the beautifully flowing writing, there will be a sentence that comes as a shock: ‘After that I resumed my daily visit to her flat, and I continued for the next twelve years’ or ‘It had been six years since he retired as an art teacher, nearly forty since he last painted out of free will’. Both these examples are from stories where the main character is very passive and has not really taken control of life. These stories are very poignant because they express the feeling of wasted time or unhappiness that couldn’t be easily resolved.

This is the first Chinese author I have ever read, and I found the insights into another culture fascinating. Although the stories are set in the present and I could very much relate to some of the aspects of modern life described, they also took me into a world very different from my own and I felt that I had learned something. ( )
  papercat | Jun 27, 2017 |
Bleak but superb. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Finest short story collection of the year. Really stellar. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
As usual I have to say that short stories are not my favourite genre but this collection caught my eye. The writing is muted yet articulate, with a style that clearly indicates a different culture.

"They would have been called "gold boy and emerald girl at their wedding, enviable for their matching good looks."

The first story, really a novella, is quite plaintive in its portrayal of a friendless woman who reads Dickens, as she reflects on her life after receiving an invitation to the funeral of her army officer.

In the title story a young woman brought up by her father developed a friendship of sorts with her biology professor. The professor arranges marriage for her now middle-aged student with her gay son. Here again the Dickens leitmotif appears: "Her grandfather had once memorized volumes of Dickens on the small balcony of a Shanghai flat, a feat that had eventually led him, before the liberation, to a high position in a bank run by Englishmen".

Overall, the stories are about love, but show a grey, melancholy picture of communist China peopled with eccentrics. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Sep 28, 2016 |
Really nicely done. Li's got a light touch, she's comfortable with ambiguity, and her compassion for difficult characters shines through. All these small lives add up to something bigger, a portrait of a time and place that haunts. Highly recommended. (And a review on Like Fire here.) ( )
  lisapeet | Jul 1, 2013 |
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For Brigid Hughes
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I am a forty-one-year-old woman living by myself, in the same one-bedroom flat where I have always lived, in a derelict building on the outskirts of Beijing that is threatened to be demolished by government-backed real estate developers.
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A collection of nine short stories that offer a vision of the human fate.

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