Synopses & Reviews
“A literary voice that brings to mind Nabokov’s description of Chekhov’s narrative style: ‘The story is told in the most natural way possible…the way one person relates to another the most important things in his life, slowly and yet without a break, in a slightly subdued voice.’ As in reading Chekhov, one is struck by how profoundly important the lives or ordinary people are made to seem, and by what a sizable chunk of existence – an entire life or several lives – has been compressed into a few pages….[Yiyun Li] succeeds in making the details of a very particular (and very sharply drawn) time and place express something broader and more universal….[Li’s stories] have the power to create hushed intervals that resonate with emotion….Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
is an example of the treasure an artist can fashion from the raw materials of ordinary existence.”
--Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice
“Li's collection well deserves a celebration with its sophistication and honesty, which often derive from a deep understanding of the history, culture and politics of China, and of their impact on ordinary people. . . . Yes, sorrows may arise during times of reflection, but it's impossible not to fall in love with the privacy and tranquility of the time and place.”
—San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, Cover Review
“Yiyun Li is a marvel. . . . Li's insights into Chinese culture make her stories fascinating reading. But the greatest pleasure comes from the admirable elegance of her work. Her writing is lyrical, circular and finely etched, with an emotional impact that both satisfies and surprises.”
—NPR.org, “Books We Like”
“With their quiet authority, exquisite control, and illumination of those quicksilver moments on which entire lives pivot, Li’s tales lodge in your rib cage long after you’ve finished reading….[Li will] remind you of what it’s like to be human in today’s increasingly fragmented world.”
“Breathtaking….starkly wondrous….gorgeous fiction….Yiyun Li writes in simple, penetrating prose….[Li] is an impresario of our essential loneliness. Still, these nine stories are not sad, but astringently beautiful.”
--Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Li is extraordinary . . . a storyteller of the first order . . . each tale in this collection is as wild and beautiful and thorny as a heart. . . Li inhabits the lives of her characters with such force and compassion that one cannot help but marvel at her remarkable talents.”
“Masterly….nuanced….Li conjures a bewildering new economy China, but her eloquent understanding of people struggling to help one another ‘make a world that would accommodate their loneliness’ feels universal.”
“Delectable….subtle and assured….[Li] finds the pulse points in the lives of her Chinese and Chinese-American characters and renders her findings with empathy and exactitude.”
“Li displays a staggering poise and grace in her latest collection of short stories….the yarns spun in Gold Boy, Emerald Girl prove to be as varied as humanity itself.”
--Time Out New York
“[Li’s] writing is minimal, yet packed with detail. At times, it feels like she is reporting in the manner of a journalist; at others she teeters on the verge of lyricism, often walking this line within a single paragraph.”
—New York Observer
“A stellar assortment of stories…further proof that Li deserves to be considered among the best living fiction writers.”
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Brilliant…a frighteningly lucid vision of human fate.”
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"The nine brilliant stories in Li's collection (after The Vagrants) offer a frighteningly lucid vision of human fate. In the title story, motherless Siyu has long been in love with an older zoology professor, Dai, who suddenly wants Siyu, 38 and single, to marry Dai's gay 42-year-old son, Hanfeng. In 'A Man Like Him,' retired art teacher Fei embarks on a strange quest after reading a story about a Web site devoted to shaming a man who left his wife. Fei seeks out the man, needing to confide to him his own sordid brush with infamy. The collection's magnificent centerpiece is 'Kindness,' the novella-length reminiscence of a spiritually despondent math teacher named Moyan, whose bleak story begins with the emotional starvation she suffered from her adoptive parents and grimly continues over the years as two older women — an English teacher and Moyan's army superior ‐ attempt, unsuccessfully, to reach out to her. Li's description of army life, and particularly her description of Moyan's regiment's march across Mount Dabi, is a bravura piece of writing, but it's Moyan's evolution from pitiable to borderline heroic (in her own way) that is Li's greatest achievement." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In these spellbinding stories, Yiyun Li, Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award winner and acclaimed author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
and The Vagrants
, gives us exquisite fiction filled with suspense, depth, and beauty, in which history, politics, and folklore magnificently illuminate the human condition.
In the title story, a professor introduces her middle-aged son to a favorite student, unaware of the student's true affections. In "A Man Like Him," a lifelong bachelor finds kinship with a man wrongly accused of an indiscretion. In "The Proprietress," a reporter from Shanghai travels to a small town to write an article about the local prison, only to discover a far more intriguing story involving a shopkeeper who offers refuge to the wives and children of inmates. In "House Fire," a young man who suspects his father of sleeping with the young man's wife seeks the help of a detective agency run by a group of feisty old women.
Written in lyrical prose and with stunning honesty, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl reveals worlds strange and familiar, and cultures both traditional and modern, to create a mesmerizing and vibrant landscape of life.
In this collection of spellbinding stories, the acclaimed author of "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" delivers exquisite fiction filled with suspense, depth, and beauty.
About the Author
1. It seems that none of the stories from the collection can straightforwardly be called a happy story, yet happiness is never far from the characters’ minds. For instance, in “Kindness,”
Moyan describes her happiness looking at trees, saying: “I loved trees more than I loved people; I still do.” In “Souvenir,” the unnamed young woman believes that she was happiest when she sat with a young man who had gone crazy from torture, because she could be like a piece of harmless furniture to him. What are other instances of happiness for the characters in this collection? What have the characters given up to achieve their happiness, and what do these compromises reveal about the characters and the time they live in?
2. Every one of the stories in the collection has a love story, or several love stories, in it. What are the moments in these stories when love transcends the bleakness and “fatality of humankind,” as the young woman in “Souvenir” calls it at the end of the story?
3. Many of the stories are set in China at a time when the modern world clashes with traditions, creating situations that baffle the characters and change their lives in one way or another. For instance, in “The Proprietress,“ a young woman finds herself the object of a great deal of media attention when she petitions to have a baby with her husband, who is on death row. What are some other situations that you find especially fascinating or perplexing in these stories? Do you think these situations are particular to life in China, or are they more universal?
4. The beauty of human memory is that, in any given moment, each of us is living multiple lives, anchored in different time periods—our decisions and perceptions about our lives reflect not only the present moment but also what has been carried on in our memories. History, especially Chinese history in the past fifty years, has given Li’s characters richly layered memories. Which of their memories moved you most, and why?
5. Many of the stories feature older characters—an old woman unwilling to give her son and daughter-in-law control of her life in “The Proprietress”; Teacher Fei, the retired art teacher, and his mother in “A Man Like Him”; the six friends who establish a business to fight against extramarital affairs in “House Fire.” What do you think Li, a writer in her thirties, has done to make these characters believable? What makes their stories important and compelling?
6. Many of the stories are set in China, which, in the past thirty years, has transformed itself with dazzling speed. Yet in any society, during any given period, human nature evolves at a much slower pace. What are some of the beauties and follies of human nature that you have seen in the characters that seem to have remained unchanged, despite the surface excitement of a new country and a new millennium?
7. The centerpiece of the collection is the novella “Kindness.” What sorts of kindness and unkindness are present in the novella? And in the other stories? How do the characters in these stories come to term with the kindness and unkindness of their fates?
8. Despite the major and minor tragedies many of these characters have to live with, there are moments in each story when a character allows him- or herself to envision a future that is at least a little better than the past, or the present. In “Number Three, Garden Road,” the two neighbors allow themselves to be “happily occupied” in the falling dusk by the music of an old banjo; the title story, “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl,” ends with Siyu’s thought that “they were lonely and sad people, all three of them, and they would not make one another less sad, but they could, with great care, make a world that would accommodate their loneliness.” What are other instances when the characters, despite the harshness or bleakness of their lives, do not lose their ability to imagine a better future?
9. Li grew up in China, and English is not her first language. Is there anything about her writing that would indicate this to you, if you didn’t know already? What do you think makes her writing stand out, as a writer in a second language?