Book Four – My Best Reads of 2011

My first choice of fiction in this list is Yiyun Li’s Golden Boy, Emerald Girl.

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Li’s extraordinary book (published late in 2010) is a collection of dense yet luminous stories of women’s lives, alternately lived in claustrophobic or numbingly pragmatic ways in response to the brutal and alarming changes that China has undergone from late in the Cultural Revolution until the recent past.

The subtext throughout is about the coping mechanisms that these people adopt to manage their inner lives and shield themselves from despair, as they settle for far less n life than they once might have dreamed. Most of the stories pack intense emotional power, and yet the language is restrained and delicate and tightly controlled throughout.

Li’s unforgettable characters include a young female inductee into the People’s Liberation Army, whose childhood with unusually remote parents has forged its own distance from others in her. The results are seen through poignant, arms-length ties with her much older childhood tutor, and with a young female officer who eagerly seeks to befriend her.

In another story, a couple of emigrants to the U.S. have lost their child and return to China  to “replace” her. This results in search in one of China’s innumerable half-developed inland towns for a surrogate mother, who they find, with striking results in terms of the dynamics between husband and wife, and wife and birth mother.

These stories resonated with all the more emotional truth for me because I read them during a year of extensive travel in Africa, where I met with scores of uprooted Chinese who have been driven by a very similar pragmatism as they have traveled far from home in middle age in search of more livable lives; in search of relief from the untold, disorienting stresses of the booming China of newspaper headlines.

Many of them were uncomplaining survivors of the Cultural Revolution, each in possession of an extraordinary oral history, and yet often surprised in our encounters that their lives could be of interest to a stranger at all.

A Review from The Guardian: http://bit.ly/auSyTW

Yiyun Li interview, NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130538242

http://www.kqed.org/arts/programs/writersblock/episode.jsp?essid=34504

My other picks so far:

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[amazon_my_favorites design=”4″ width=”250″ title=”The Origin of AIDS” market_place=”US” ASIN=”0521186374″ color_theme=”Onyx” columns=”1″ rows=”3″ outer_background_color=”” inner_background_color=”” background_color=”” border_color=”” header_text_color=”#FFFFFF” linked_text_color=”” body_text_color=”” shuffle_products=”True” show_image=”True” show_price=”True” show_rating=”True” rounded_corners=”False”/]

[amazon_my_favorites design=”4″ width=”250″ title=”1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created” market_place=”US” ASIN=”0307265722″ color_theme=”Onyx” columns=”1″ rows=”3″ outer_background_color=”” inner_background_color=”” background_color=”” border_color=”” header_text_color=”#FFFFFF” linked_text_color=”” body_text_color=”” shuffle_products=”True” show_image=”True” show_price=”True” show_rating=”True” rounded_corners=”False”/]

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