I’m so glad I won this raffle. This book has 10 short stories in it and I will break down each story and my thoughts. Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead!
Each story takes place in modern China or strongly involves modern China in some way.
Lulu: A very strong start to the book and my favorites of the stories. This story is about two twins. Lulu and her brother are very different and that becomes more apparent as the story progresses. Lulu is very outspoken about the government and her brother buries himself in video games. Lulu is also against the brutality of the police. She ends up being arrested three times. The first time she is let go after a beating, the second time she is sentenced to three years in prison and the third time she is sentenced to ten years. She ends up losing her boyfriend and her family is disappointed in her. I see this as how scary the Chinese government is and that they do not like people speaking out against the government and trying to change.
Hotline Girl: This short story was still good, but I feel like it didn’t hit as hard with me as Lulu did. Will I now be comparing everything to Lulu- yes. Our main character Bayi is a hotline girl that works a government job in the Satisfaction Office. One of her old boyfriends keeps calling trying to get her line so she will talk to him. He is visiting the city and would like to see her. Bayi finally agrees so he will stop calling her at work. The big thing with this story is Keju and realizing how he lost his arm. He was a horrible person (At least from what Bayi tells us) but he did not deserve to lose his arm. He lost his arm in a factory explosion that almost killed him. The factory explosion happens and injures and kills people because they were locked in for their shift. The factory had not been inspected in four years. The working conditions are horrible and terrifies me. I feel like that was the point of this short story though.
This story felt a little like magical realism to me. There is a new fruit that gets introduced to the people. One of the characters Lao Zhou ends up handing the fruit out to his neighbors. The first season with the qiguo is magical; people feel amazing and are doing things they haven’t wanted to do in years. They are being positive and contributing to society. The second season with the fruit is different though. It’s almost the anti first year. People are miserable and life doesn’t seem good after they eat the fruit. The people are lying to each other though and saying that they are still enjoying the fruit and things feel great.
Field Notes on Marriage:
This short story is about Gao and told from his wife’s point of view. Gao is from China, but he doesn’t like the country and doesn’t really want to return to it. His mother begged him to bring his wife home to China, but Gao refused. The proposal between Gao and his wife was a little odd. It seemed so nonchalant to me; kind of like Bruno Mars’ song about not having anything better to do so let's go get married. Now I do believe they care about one another, but I don’t think they really knew each other well enough. Gao ends up committing suicide after the couple has been together for two years and his wife decides she is going to fly to China and see Gao’s home and meet his parents. Things don’t go the way she thought they would though and it proved the point that she did not really know her husband all that well.
This story is about Cao Cao and his wife Anning. Cao Cao is a very inventive man who won fame in his small town when he built a noodle chopping machine. Now he wants to make a plane. When he believes that he has built the plane and it will fly he invites a bunch of people, including the press to see the plane fly. The plane doesn’t take off from the ground though, breaking Cao Cao’s heart. One of the observers remarks that Cao Cao made a car instead of a plane, trying to boost his spirits. Cao Cao at the end of the story remarks to himself that he wants to find a way to fix the plane and make it fly, but this time he won’t invite anyone to watch him.
On the Street Where You Live:
This was probably one of the most shocking of the short stories, at least to me, and probably one of the better stories in this book. We have our narrator who is telling the story, but we are never told his name. It flashes back and forth to him in prison and before prison, explaining to us how he got there. Lisette is the name of the girl he likes and he is friends with. Lisette decides that she wants to leave town and start a new life. She leaves her old apartment, but our narrator is convinced that one day she will come back. He ends up moving into her old apartment and a man named Perry comes by looking for Lisette. The narrator claims he doesn’t know her and that he just moved into the apartment. Perry finds credit card information and thinks that the narrator did something to Lisette. This infuriates our narrator and he pushes Perry and Perry ends up hitting his head, dying as a result. The death was an accident, but we finally figure out why the narrator is in prison. I kind of felt bad for the narrator, but at the same time, I found him to be a little creepy. He didn’t keep in contact with Lisette, so his actions came off just as stalkerish to me as Perry’s.
This was another book that I found myself enjoying. This story starts with a death; it’s a pretty irrelevant death, but it is still a death. Our main character of this story is Xiaolei who works in a flower shop. She has a favorite customer that she fantasizes about- who he is, what his job is, if he’s married, things like that. One day her favorite customer leaves behind a pen and his wife comes to pick it up. Xiaolei refuses to give his wife the pen, saying that she can only give the pen back to its owner. This ends up leading to Xiaolei getting fired from the flower shop- which seems to be a bit of an extreme in my opinion. She goes to the man’s house, but he doesn’t recognize her at all, which breaks her heart that she is nothing to this man, that he can’t even place her face. The end of this short story was kind of weird, but at the same time makes sense. She has dreams about this pen and searches for ones like it. My theory is that she wants to find an identical pen so that she can feel a connection with him.
Land of Big Numbers:
In this story we have our main character of Zhu Feng and his friend Li Xueshi. Zhu Feng is ambitious and wants more money to make more money. He gambles with stock throughout this story. He borrows money from Li which is just a dangerous game. Never owe your friends money- it complicates your friendship. For a while Zhu makes money, but he keeps on gambling with the stock market, until one day the market crashes. He ends up borrowing more money from Li, but only ends up digging a bigger hole for himself. He ends up losing Li’s friendship and is in a ton of debt, which is how the story ends. Don’t gamble kids.
This story is about the narrator and her boyfriend Eric. Our narrator is from China and has been living in the United States for 10 years now. She loves her boyfriend, but he’s a bit sketchy to me. The two of them are on vacation together in Arizona. Our narrator found a tube of lipstick in Eric’s car that is not hers. She keeps coming up with ways that Eric is not cheating on her, instead of coming up with the conclusion that he is indeed cheating on her. I found this narrator to be too caught up in Eric to see the error of his ways. She discusses marrying him, but girl don’t marry him! Once a cheater, always a cheater. He cheated once and he’s showing that he probably cheated on you again.
This was actually a really cool story, and one of my favorites (I’d say second favorite). We have our main character Pan who is waiting to take the train home. The train station is packed, which I’m sure is common in busy cities. An announcement comes on saying that the train is delayed. Oh boy was the train delayed. The people get trapped in the train station and are not allowed to leave from the way they came, because that is against the rules. At first everyone is panicked trying to find ways to get out. Pan is worried about her father, who she takes care of. Several people, including Pan, plan an escape that ends up failing. Over time people start to give things to the people who are trapped in the station. The people who are trapped start to feel good about being in the station. They feel like life in the station is better than life on the outside. One day when a train finally stops, the people don’t know what to do. They question if it’s safe and if they should ask someone if they are allowed to get on it. Hardly anyone takes the opportunity to escape. Only Pan and a few others hop on the train and get out of the station.