In this collection of short stories, Li examines the reality of daily life in modern China, opening our eyes to a world where society is trying to balance the weight of tradition with the fast pace of modern life. In ‘Extra’, a lonely middle-aged woman finds herself abandoned in a wilderness of strangers, dehumanised and treated as a commodity. When she befriends a young boy there is a sense of hope that their mutual affection will provide a life-raft in a world in which they are invisible. In ‘Persimmons’ we are reminded of the horrors the state is capable of enacting on citizens that do not toe the line.
Li’s characters are presented without prejudice, illuminated in prose that is spare yet still tender. By focusing her narrative on seemingly insignificant lives, she weaves a tapestry of life in the whole of China and the struggle between generations to find themselves (and each other). In this collection, Li gives them all a voice. An absolutely stunning set of stories – much more delicate than Wild Swans, but no less important.