Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li
Publisher/Year: Random House, 2010
Source: Publisher review copy via NetGalley
What it is: A collection of short stories mostly revolving around lonely Chinese characters who are grasping at happier future, but are grounded in the bleak realities of everyday life.
Why I read it: I love short story collections and had heard many good things about this one.
What I thought: This book definitely falls on the darker side of the spectrum, but it’s dark in subtle ways and stops short of going into full-on depression mode; characters are left with some kind of imperfect hope. A lot of the stories illustrate the ways that the traditions and values of the past have settled into an uneasy relationship with contemporary times. My favorite stories were “Prison,” about a middle-aged Chinese American couple whose teenage daughter dies, which spurs them to travel to China to find a surrogate mother so they can have another child; and “Sweeping Past,” about an elderly Chinese woman thinking back on friendship lost. Overall I thought the collection was a little uneven, but I do think Li’s writing is elegant throughout.
Favorite line: “They were lonely and sad people, all three of them, and they would not make one another less sad, but they could, with great care, make a world that would accommodate their loneliness.”
If this book were a beverage, it would be: a full-bodied oolong tea to be sipped slowly.
The Turquoise Ledge by Leslie Marmon Silko
Publisher/Year: Viking, 2010
Source: Personal copy
What it is: A very strange, largely plotless, nonlinear memoir that defies summarization.
Why I read it: I wanted to (finally) read something by Leslie Marmon Silko, and since I was already reading a lot of women’s history-ish books at the time, I figured I’d start with her memoir.
What I thought: If you’ve never read anything by this author, I probably wouldn’t recommend that you start here. At face value, this book is “about” nothing, at least not in terms of what one expects of a memoir. Instead, the author takes her time talking about the long walks she takes through the desert outside Tucson, finding turquoise rocks and imagining how they came to be, talking about rattlesnakes, talking about art, etc. It has a lot of the structural elements of traditional Native American storytelling, so that’s also something you have to adjust to if you’re not familiar with it. BUT. I did enjoy getting to view the world through the author’s — and her ancestors’ — eyes. At first I kept wondering, “Where is she going with this?” And then something weird happened, and I started to walk around mulling about the small wonders of my own environments (something decidedly not typical of me). So that was a cool side effect of the book; it left me in a very different mindset for days after I finished it.
If this book were a beverage, it would be: lots of precious water.