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Gold Boy, Emerald Girl Hardcover – 14 Sep 2010

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Variations on a masterful theme 23 Dec. 2010
By IamNateDavis - Published on
Format: Hardcover
If you've read either of Yiyun Li's previous two (outstanding) works, you already know that she's not going to take you on a fun escape from reality. She's not beach reading. She's not "entertainment." Her formative years were in Communist China, a generally grim, soul-squashing place, and her writing reflects that (though beautifully). So with the real world full of hardship, compromise, and disappointment, why would you pick up fiction that's full of even more? Because--especially for Westerners like me--stories like this shouldn't be optional. They should be mandatory. Why? They impressed two deep truths upon me: those of us who grew up in free societies were incredibly fortunate, but that regardless of government, we all share the same joys and struggles.

While her subject matter is almost invariably serious, Yiyun's unadorned yet powerful prose flows easily, which is all the more impressive considering English is the author's second language. What struck me especially hard with this book, though, was her gift for speaking convincingly through characters of all different ages. She seemingly remembers being a kid while also possessing the long-seeing perspective of a grandparent. What all of the protagonists share, however (tying into the first big truth above), is a perspective that characterizes Li's work, a distinctly un-American one: they're not optimists; they're somewhere between pragmatists and pessimists--but as readers who grew up in most other places in the world might attest, it's a perspective both natural and sensible. Out of the many memorable quotations I wrote down from the book, I might pick this one to exemplify this ethos (an elderly man): "He thought about the two girls and their youthful indifference. One day, if they were fortunate enough to survive all the disappointments life had in store for them, they would have to settle into their no longer young bodies."

The one criticism one might make--like looking for chisel marks on Michelangelo's David, to be sure, but this is why I didn't 5-star this collection--is that after three books, Ms. Li hasn't explored much new territory; there is a certain sameness to all of her work. That said, what she does, she does so well that I will quickly snap up her next book as soon as it hits the shelves. But I can't help being curious about what she'd be capable of if she turned her keen eye on her adopted land as she has so skillfully on her native one.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Lingering Memories and Unfolding Lives 4 April 2011
By Jessika - Published on
Format: Hardcover
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Touching stories of aging and loss 4 Dec. 2010
By Chaiam Yankel's bubbie - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beautifully crafted and elegantly told stories of contemporary China, specifically with a thread about immigration to the U.S. Many of these stories were about the regret and sorrow faced by older people as they look back at their lives. I loved that I learned something about modern day China; at the same time, many themes of the stories touched on universal experiences in a meaningful way. A really good read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Powerful stories well told 25 Nov. 2011
By Raymond Cooper - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I think Yiyun Li is one of the best writers of fiction about China working today. This collection of short stories, her second, is filled with memorable characters and plot lines that reflect a deep understanding of modern Chinese culture. I suppose that many Westerners who have not been to China or know little of 20th century Chinese cultural history might have trouble understanding the motivation of some of her characters, but her stories are told with such force that one has to appreciate her skill in telling a story. The first and longest story in this collection, "Kindness"is a devastating story a woman who's loneliness and lack of emotional warmth is painstakingly divulged as she narrates her life's story. "Prison" is a story of the clash between Western and Chinese cultural values in the persons of two women who are brought together by a tragedy one suffers. I don't want to ruin your enjoyment of the story by giving you more details- just read it. I really love this lady's writing and cannot recommend it strongly enough.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Unique Voice 5 Nov. 2011
By Cynthia - Published on
Format: Paperback
The first story, `Kindness', is about a young girl serving her required army stint the year before starting college. She's led an isolated childhood as an only child of a depressed, unengaged mother and a loving but much older and more tired father who works as a janitor. The child has an odd talent for gaining the interest of influential people such as an aging, lonely literary woman who teaches her to read and appreciate English literature including Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence. In the army her commanding officer attempts to form a close relationship with her but our protagonist eludes her and though the girl is an expert observer of the other soldiers around her she holds herself separate. The story is told at a distance from the stance of the middle aged teacher the girl becomes. As an adult she continues her solitary sojourn with her deft people watching skills. She has a longing to be a part of other's lives but an even stronger longing to remain separate where she feels safe and free to observe.

In `A Man like Him' a retired art teacher spends his days caring for his elderly widowed mother. He has no companions in his old age except his internet chat room friends. He hires a woman to sit with his mother and slinks off to the corner internet café sitting among young giggling, courting kids. On one site he encounters a bitter young female blogger whose story gets under his skin so much that he steps out from behind his keyboard to confront his feelings. The blogger is obsessed with letting everyone know how badly her father has treated her and her mother through his infidelity and desertion. The art teacher feels an affinity with the slandered father. He reaches out to the blogger's victim and they meet in person but it only gets sadder when he comes out from behind his protective computer screen. There's something dark and tragic and inevitable in his story.

One of the most affective stories was about a Chinese couple who immigrate to the US where they have successful careers and a child. They're happy until the daughter is killed in a horrible car accident right before she graduates from high school. The middle aged couple decides to have a biological child by implanting their embryo into a surrogate. The wife goes back to China, finds a surrogate and stays with her until their child is born. Of course nothing is quite that easy. The surrogate has a tragic past of her own and dreams of a better future life. The wife and the surrogate get closer than they'd planned.

There is a pervading sadness in all Li's stories but they also have a stark beauty. All emotions are kept in a tight box and the tension comes with the reader's fear, and even desire, that all heck is about to break loose. I felt like I'd been given a glimpse into a uniquely Chinese point of view but at the same time it felt universal. I'm not sure how she achieved this seeming contradiction but I came away feeling emotionally richer.
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