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Gold Boy, Emerald Girl: Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 14, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Yiyun Li on Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

A childhood memory that my sister and I shared, though from slightly different angles, was a lost two-yuan bill. She was seven, and I was three, and on this summer day she was in charge of taking care of me and buying two yuan worth of pork, which, in 1976, would count as half of our monthly meat ration.

The waiting line at the meat counter was long. I was hot, and bored, and made a fuss to hold the bill for my sister while she struggled not to lose the ration book, or me, or her position in the line. She had me promise not to let the money go from my grasp many times before putting it in my hand; I walked in and out of the line, holding the money tightly, but the next thing I knew, when I looked again the money was gone from my hand, and in its place I had a piece of scrap paper.

My sister received a memorable beating for the lost bill from our mother. I received no such punishment, but had my first experience of remorse. For days after I would try to revise my memory: that I had not asked for the money; that I had held it so securely that it had not been replaced. But remorse, like my sister's pains from the beating or from being the less favored daughter, takes its course to become less engrossing, so the episode becomes a joke between us, standing in for all the things we can and cannot possibly laugh about. What I find more fascinating, though, is how the money was replaced: my parents believed that I dropped the money and picked up something else in its place; I, however, knowing even then the significance of two-yuan bill, believed that I had not let the money go until someone, not by force but by guile, got the money out of my hand and repaid me with the scrap paper. Either possibility would make sense; either could make a story with a happy ending: the one who deceived a small child and the one who spotted a lost bill could both, at the end of the day, celebrate their good fortune.

All the stories in Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, like the episode with the lost money, came from situations--both Chinese and American--that could lead to different stories. The versions I chose to tell, I hope, have neither villains nor victims in them but people who have both taken from others and have been taken from, who have both deceived and been deceived, and who are as lonely as you and I.

©2010 by Yiyun Li

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068134
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068135
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,440,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Every story in this masterful collection is pretty freaking depressing. They are all love stories, but they're also about loneliness, loss, and growing older. So why am I such a fan of them even thought they're Debbie Downers? The writing is BEAUTIFUL. So rich and lyrical. It took me a while to get through this average-size collection because these are not the kind of stories you can rush through...you need to pause between them and take time to reflect on them before moving on. I really enjoyed the book and look forward to reading more works by this author.
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