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Little Gods

by Meng Jin

Little Gods by Meng Jin X
Little Gods by Meng Jin
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 288 pages

    Jan 2021, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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Power Reviewer
Cathryn Conroy

This Is a Strange Story with a Cumbersome Structure, But It's Also Beautiful and Compelling
Oh, this is a strange little book. It's also strangely beautiful and strangely compelling.

Who ARE you…really? Ask that question of anyone who is close to you, and you'll probably get different answers. That's because we are perceived differently by different people. And that is the crux of this debut novel by author Meng Jin.

This is the story of Su Lan as told only through the eyes of her friend and neighbor Zhu Wen, her former husband Li Yongzong, and her angry daughter Liya. And the three points of view couldn't be more different. Su Lan, an extraordinarily gifted physicist, gives birth to Liya in a Beijing hospital on June 4, 1989 amidst the Tiananmen Square massacre. She returns to her home in Shanghai mysteriously without her husband. Two years later, she is on a plane to the United States to start her life over. And when Liya is in her late teens, Su Lan dies. This is where the story really begins as Liya travels to China with Su Lan's ashes in her backpack—a land she doesn't remember—to try to solve the tragic mystery of her mother, a brilliant but soulless woman, who did everything she could to expunge her past and the people in it.

Ah, but the past can't be erased, can it? And it will always haunt us no matter how far or how often we run away or how cleverly we try to bury it. The past is real. It's the future that is only in our imaginations. "Do you believe in time?" asks Su Lan.

The novel's strange structure is a bit cumbersome and awkward at first—the first chapter is titled "The End" and the last chapter is titled "The Beginning"—but it's relatively easy to fall into the unusual rhythm. This book is so laser-focused on the characters that what little there is of a plot is only used to further the ubiquitous themes of time, space, and memory.

Bonus: There are several articulate and quite understandable descriptions of the second law of thermodynamics and the property of entropy. Go ahead! Google it. If you don't have a scientific bent, you'll probably be a bit confused (or totally confused). Then read this book for an understandable explanation.
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Beyond the Book:
  The Tiananmen Square Massacre

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