Chinese author Yiyun Li’s book Gold Boy Emerald Girl has been selected as the next read for Chicago’s city-wide book club. The book, which is Yiyun Li’s third release, is a collection of short stories depicting rich and haunting stories from China. The stories often juxtapose traditional values and ways of life with modern society to reveal a vastly complicated China of today not often seen in books.
Gold Boy Emerald Girl consists of nine short stories, each of which follows the lives of Chinese characters dealing with the realities of their everyday world and many of whom are haunted by a past tragedy. “Kindness”, for example – the book’s lead-off story – is about a Beijing girl who survived a year in the People’s Liberation Army and now leads a solitary life in a near-derelict apartment block. “House Fire”, meanwhile, recounts a group of middle-aged women who investigate cheating husbands.
Author Yiyun Li is a darling of the Chinese-American fiction scene. A native of Beijing, Li emigrated to the United States to do an M.A. in immunology after earning her B.S. in China. Yiyun Li’s life took a drastic change when she enrolled in the Nonfiction Writing program at the University of Iowa and began writing in English.
Li’s debut work, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers – also a collection of short stories – won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2005 and her second work and first novel, The Vagrants, was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Yiyun Li also won the MacArthur “Genius” grant in 2010 prior to releasing Gold Boy Emerald Girl in 2011.
Hosted by the Chicago Public Library, the “One Book, One Chicago” book club was begun in 2001 as a mayor’s initiative to get the whole city reading together. Since then, participants in the citywide book club have covered two books a year, ranging from American classics like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to modern international works, such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. However, the inclusion of Yiyun Li’s Gold Boy Emerald Girl marks the first time that the Chicago book club has featured a Chinese author or book.
A number of events will coincide with the book club reading, including an art exhibition created by local high school students and a discussion by the author in April. Several performances will also coincide with the book club reading, including a theatrical performance by the Silk Road theater troupe and a musical concert hosted by the Chicago Chinese Fine Arts Society.