I loved this collection of short stories, which is inspired by Chen’s experiences as a Beijing and Hong Kong correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Most of the stories are set in China, some offering a slice-of-life feel while others lean into surrealism and symbolism, often with overtones of political commentary.
The first story, “Lulu,” immediately captured my attention. The titular character’s twin brother recounts their story: in their youth, Lulu shined with intelligence and intensity as a model student while he spent his time playing video games, but later on her intensity turns toward a microblog she uses to repost protests against the government. It’s a gripping, haunting story—weeks later this story randomly and vividly came to my mind again. There’s so much contained within it, from the familial expectations to the role that the internet plays.
The last story “Gubeikou Spirit" does a stellar job of closing out this collection. I won’t spoil it by summarizing it at all but it’s so strange and surreal, and fantastically metaphorical. In between these two stories, my favorites were “New Fruit” and “Shanghai Murmur.” I loved the way that many of the stories were suspenseful but subtle, and sometimes a little unresolved in the way that life is. This is a collection I’ll definitely revisit, as I’m sure there are layers that I missed.