Summary and book reviews of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

Stories

By Yiyun Li

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

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Book Summary

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.

Kindness

Chapter One

i am a forty-one-year-old woman living by myself, in the same one- bedroom flat where I have always lived, in a derelict building on the outskirts of Beijing that is threatened to be demolished by government-backed real estate developers. Apart from a trip to a cheap seaside resort, taken with my parents the summer I turned five, I have not traveled much; I spent a year in an army camp in central China, but other than that I have never lived away from home. In college, after a few failed attempts to convince me of the importance of being a community member, my adviser stopped acknowledging my presence, and the bed assigned to me was taken over by the five other girls in the dorm and their trunks.

I have not married, and naturally have no children. I have few friends, though as I have never left the neighborhood, I have enough acquaintances, most of them a generation or two older. Being around them is comforting; never is there a day when I feel that I am alone in ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Despite Li's careful rendering of China, it does not require a strong interest in Chinese culture to savor Gold Boy, Emerald Girl (despite the liberal sprinkling of Chinese aphorisms throughout the stories). This is where the collection exceeds the most; though each narrative corresponds to social concerns that are pertinent to China, the characters and their dilemmas could take place in Oklahoma, Geneva, Siberia, Johannesburg, or some other foreign locale. Li's Spartan prose style, with limited description and dialogue, strengthens both the Chinese culture and the universal concerns of each story. Readers who want to relate to the characters they meet, more so than the locales, will be dazzled by Li's writing. I, for one, will remember the people in these stories for many years to come.   (Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).

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Media Reviews
The Guardian - Alex Clark

Trauma and loss afflict most of the characters in Yiyun Li's third book – her first collection of short stories, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Guardian first book award in 2006, and a novel, The Vagrants, appeared here last year – but by the time we meet them, crisis is usually at some distance; what we witness is their slow attempts to adjust to radically altered circumstances.

The Independent - David Mattin

To read any one of these stories is to receive proof of Li's mastery. They are exquisitely made, and function with a vast, metronomic precision that eschews anything inessential.

Booklist

[In] several tales, including the funny, bittersweet title story, adjustments are made, solutions are found, and friendship and love survive like plants pushing through asphalt.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The nine brilliant stories in Li's collection (after The Vagrants) offer a frighteningly lucid vision of human fate.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Further proof that Li deserves to be considered among the best living fiction writers.

Elle - Lisa Shea

With serpentine beauty, Li’s stories wind around the wreckage of multiple marriages, lonely only children, and old men ­wedding women 30 years younger than them. From these seminal situations, Li’s ­characters, and perhaps her ­readers, emerge a bit ­sadder—and that much wiser.

New York Times - Francine Prose

What’s distinctive about Yiyun Li’s work is the contrast between its emotional intensity and its calm, measured tone, 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."

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Beyond the Book

Beijing
Many of Yiyun Li's stories revolve around her childhood home of Beijing, China's capital city. Beijing (meaning Northern Capital) is one of China's four great ancient capitals, alongside Nanjing (meaning Southern Capital), Xi'an (meaning Western Peace) and Luoyang (known during the Tang dynasty as Dongdu, meaning Eastern Capital).

stadiumWhile the total population of the Beijing area is almost on a par with Shanghai's 19 million, it resists the frantic, hurried pace of its coastal counterpart. The city is crossed by several rivers and is also the northern terminus of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Beijing is home to Tiananmen Square, the largest city square in the world, which is located at the entrance to the ...

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