Gold Boy, Emerald Girl is a series of short stories with the overall themes of unhappiness and loneliness displayed in the lives of the Chinese and Chinese immigrant characters. “Kindness” tells the story of a single, Chinese woman in her forties, reflecting back on her isolated life from her sad, quiet childhood and her strange friendship with an ailing professor to her time in the military. “Prison” describes the heartbreak of Chinese immigrants that moved to America to give their daughter the best life that they can, only to have her die in a car accident at 16. To try to rebuild their life, the couple returns to China to pursue an illegal surrogate situation in order to have another child.
Although this is a series of short stories, each character presented is as whole, clear, and creatively drawn as if you had read a whole novel about them and their situation. Li draws the reader into each character’s life and lets the reader see their sadness and in some cases, desperation. Yet, this book is not “depressing” so much as it is honest. There is no glossy coating to the stories. The reader also gets to glimpse into the fascinating everyday, informal culture of Chinese families.
Li is the winner of numerous awards including the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and her work has appeared in The New Yorker and The Best American Short Stories.