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The Girl Who Played Goby Shan Sa
Winner of the 2004 Kiriyama Prize for Fiction
Synopses & Reviews
In a remote Manchurian town in the 1930s, a sixteen-year-old girl is more concerned with intimations of her own womanhood than the escalating hostilities between her countrymen and their Japanese occupiers. While still a schoolgirl in braids, she takes her first lover, a dissident student. The more she understands of adult life, however, the more disdainful she is of its deceptions, and the more she loses herself in her one true passion: the ancient game of go.
Incredibly for a teenager — and a girl at that — she dominates the games in her town. No opponent interests her until she is challenged by a stranger, who reveals himself to us as a Japanese soldier in disguise. They begin a game and continue it for days, rarely speaking but deeply moved by each other's strategies. As the clash of their peoples becomes ever more desperate and inescapable, and as each one's untold life begins to veer wildly off course, the girl and the soldier are absorbed by only one thing — the progress of their game, each move of which brings them closer to their shocking fate.
In The Girl Who Played Go, Shan Sa has distilled the piercing emotions of adolescence into an engrossing, austerely beautiful story of love, cruelty and loss of innocence.
"The story is as lovely and delicate as a carved jade flower — and can seem as cold to the touch. This is beautiful writing, but it's a bit remote." Library Journal
"Intense, operatic personal tragedy magnified by Sa's sense of history and Eastern culture." Kirkus Reviews
"Spare prose adorned with images that linger in the mind... In this elegant translation...the dreamlike, mesmerizing alternation of voices stands in uneasy contrast to the operatic violence of the plot." Janice P. Nimura, New York Times Book Review
"Measured... Precise... The historical backdrop, itself a forceful character, provides a compelling context for this economical story of impossible love." Sara Ivry, San Francisco Chronicle
"What makes Sa's novel so satisfying is the deceptive simplicity of her narrative strategy... We watch in fascination as the terrible secrets of their lives begin to coincide." Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News
"Dreamy... powerful... this unlikely love story... is beautiful, shocking, and sad." Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly
"Harrowing... While exploring epic themes like the loss of innocence and the meaning of honor, it lingers on the tiny, exquisite details of life in a remote, cosmopolitan Manchurian town in the thirties." Elizabeth Schmidt, Vogue
As the Japanese military invades 1930s Manchuria, a young girl approaches her own sexual coming of age. Drawn into a complex triangle with two boys, she distracts herself from the onslaught of adulthood by playing the game of go with strangers in a public square--and yet the force of desire, like the occupation, proves inevitable. Unbeknownst to the girl who plays go, her most worthy and frequent opponent is a Japanese soldier in disguise. Captivated by her beauty as much as by her bold, unpredictable approach to the strategy game, the soldier finds his loyalties challenged. Is there room on the path to war for that most revolutionary of acts: falling in love?
About the Author
Shan Sa was born in 1972 in Beijing. In 1990 she left China for France, where she studied in Paris and worked for two years with the painter Balthus. Her two previous novels were awarded the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman and the Prix Cazes. This is her first book to be published in the United States.
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