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- Published on Amazon.com
Gold Boy, Emerald Girl is essentially a mixture: of stories, of cultures, of emotions, of people. Chinese tradition and modern American life mingle on the pages and the results resonated with me. The gaps between worlds or times provide ample food for thought. Who holds more power, the employer or the person providing the service? How will virtual social interaction affect the generation that grows up without meeting places and physical gatherings? If one encounters a story online, how far is one permitted to go in response? This is meant not to imply that the only points worth examining are those supplied by the reader, of course. I am still haunted by the words of the first protagonist regarding the places to which we cannot return. In reading Yiyun Li's stories, I learned about myself, and I was certainly not expecting to be taught.
Stylistically, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl is both beautiful and realistic. Words are handled elegantly and deliberately, like a calligrapher moving the brush smoothly into the ink, on the page, and back- in long, graceful circles that draw the audience into their rhythm. Despite the graceful prose, the people depicted are all flawed in some manner. Foolish decisions are made. Marital trust is betrayed. A simple action brings deep shame. Power shifts between people and vanity crops up. There was no sense that these stories are false, but that any might be told by a person whom I pass by, if only I took the time to listen. Happy endings are not forced and some loose ends escape being tied and continue to flap freely after the story ends.
The first story, "Kindness" follows a woman through her memories- of childhood, of military life, and of the people who surrounded her along the way. She began life in a small apartment, and rather than being changed by the events of her life, driven to exciting new places or different sights, this woman remains in the same place. While a western sentiment would likely demand growth and movement, an eastern one is able to see the strength contained in such a choice. As the world shifts around her, this woman remains- a rock planted in the middle of a river, too heavy to be caught up in the current and insistent that all the water may do to it is smooth away the rough edges. There is something to be said for consistency and stability.
The title story still lingers in my mind because of the ending. I thought I could see the path, the resolution to peoples' problems, and the joy that would follow their resolution. I was wrong, torn from my preconceptions and forced to gaze on the unapologetic conclusion. It shocked me, at first, to see that things didn't come together as I predicted, but in the end, I liked it, because life doesn't work like I expect either. I wish that I could discuss this further, but it will only ruin your experience with the story, and that would be a grave disservice.
Gold Boy, Emerald Girl isn't completely happy, but it isn't completely lost to melancholy either. The characters within lie somewhere between, as we all do, and nearly every tale has an element of the bittersweet. This book is perfect for quiet thought, and those who desire books that are reminiscent of summer blockbusters will not find much satisfaction here. If you choose to read it, take time to process it and let it envelope you. Those who rush often deprive themselves of many pleasures, and with prose this beautiful and stories so brilliantly real, there is a great deal of enjoyment waiting to be savored.