‘Gold Boy, Emerald Girl’, by Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li left her training as an immunologist to become a writer. Medicine’s loss is literature’s gain: her first novel, the grim, Dostoevsky-like The Vagrants, is one of the best books published in the last 10 years. Li excels at short fiction, too: in this collection she explores, through the latent melancholy and resigned pragmatism of her characters, the fractured nature of modern China, where she grew up (she moved to the US in her 20s): its cultural and historical upheavals, its individual deaths and departures arbitrarily violent or casually mundane by turns. In the strikingly hesitant title story, the Gold Boy and the Emerald Girl, both raised as only children, are set up for a pairing off in middle age by his anxious mother, who is unaware that they are mismatched because their romantic impulses lie in different, possibly forbidden, directions. Nonetheless, the two reach an understanding and a resolution that ‘they would not make on another less sad, but they could, with great care, make a world that would accommodate their loneliness’.

(From Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, Hamish Hamilton, 2010)

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