A modern woman adrift in modern China. Would-be lovers connected and separated by random chance. A drunken dissident and his less-then-happy minder. A researcher of war atrocities who must come to grips with her own family tragedies. A princess of a kingdom that no longer exists. Actors placed at the service of comedies and tragedies, depending on a filmmaker’s whim… These are the characters that populate Ho Lin’s short story collection China Girl.
In its nine tales, China Girl documents the collisions between East and West, the power of myth and the burden of history, and loves lost and almost found. The stories in this collection encompass everything from contemporary vignettes about urban life to fable-like musings on memories and the art of storytelling. Wide-ranging and playful, China Girl is a journey into today’s Asia as well as an Asia of the imagination.
These short stories had a massive range of ideas, from the everyday of having to deal with a love triangle to the more extreme like a government employee keeping watch over a journalist who stepped over the line. The language was simply beautiful, meaning there were several quotes that I wished I had written down because they hit me hard, and all the stories took on a slightly otherworldly air. This worked well in places, like the stories with ghosts in them or the story about the researcher, but in other places, it left me feeling slightly distant to the story and to the characters.
I felt like I would have appreciated this book a lot more if I had a greater knowledge of Chinese culture and history. These stories are grounded in history; sometimes the stories are based in historical times and settings but the modern day ones are looking back at historical events or talking about how their personal history affects their present. It is one thing Lin did really well, showing how history can influence the culture of a nation and affects its people in it, even when they emigrate to other countries. Some stories didn’t do that as well as others in showcasing the historical background, in China Girl I felt like I was getting whiplash from the number of different directions the story was taking into the protagonist’s past but others, like Litany, Eulogy, integrated the historical background seamlessly.
I think my favourite story was Litany, Eulogy. A woman is researching the Rape of Nanking (I’m assuming so, it’s never said outright) and her family have personal experience with the massacre so she’s interviewing them. She talks about the effect of the experience itself, but also her publicising the truth when her family just wants it to stay buried in the past. It was raw and painful but so powerful with it.
This was an ARC from NetGalley and I had some problems with the layout of the book which was why this was harder to read than I thought it would be. I’m tempted to get the paperback version just so I can read it properly.