The 2010 Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, currently in prison in China, wrote that the Mao era "caused people to sell their souls: hate your spouse, denounce your father, betray your friend, pile on a helpless victim, say anything to remain 'correct'", and argued that the consequence was today's "Age of Cynicism in which people no longer believe in anything".-- from a profile of Yuyun Li
Such generalisations can feel uncomfortable to those with little or no first-hand knowledge of China. Many recent commentators have noted the futility of trying to summarise everything currently taking place in China, let alone trying to predict what may come next.
But Yiyun Li's fiction echoes Xiaobo's analysis of a society hollowed out by its past, of people who have lost their moral bearings and struggle to find any meaning in life. Character after character in Gold Boy, Emerald Girl rejects intimacy in favour of isolation, and those who do scramble after lust or affection end up disappointed or betrayed. "People who do not cling to life perish, one way or another," reflects the narrator of the opening story, "Kindness". Every story in the collection has a suicide.