I took my time with this one, as you can see from the photo, taken when there were still flowers outside (!) instead of a blizzard (!!), and I really enjoyed the stories in this collection. Chen, who works as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, filled her stories with a journalistic eye for details and nuances, and the way the stories turned from the ordinary to the slightly surreal or horrific back to the mundane again was unexpected and gripping.
Chen’s stories were divided between those with native Chinese people navigating China’s rapidly changing reality (I read somewhere recently that “living in China is like living in America and North Korea at the same time”) and those with Chinese characters in America or vice versa. For me, the stories of native Chinese characters were more interesting and affecting, as the other stories relied perhaps too much on cross-cultural miscues and misunderstandings to feel truly surprising. But when she wrote about a city’s reaction to a strange new fruit in “New Fruit” or a young man’s gains and losses in China’s volatile and poorly regulated stock market in “Land of Big Numbers”, the stories came alive with visceral anticipation, excitement, and dread.
“Lulu”, which first appeared in The New Yorker, and “Shanghai Murmur” both depict young, striving women trying to find a place in a supposedly modern, open society where women’s equality has increasingly become the victim of unconstrained capitalism, and their every interaction with men in the stories were fraught with tension.
If you’re interested in reading more short stories or want to read some fiction about contemporary China, I think this is a great place to start.