One Book, One Chicago Spring 2012
- In “Kindness,” Moyan retreats from the world and from characters such as Lieutenant Wei who reach out to her. Is this a character flaw or a survival tactic?
- Does Moyan’s mother really suffer from mental illness or does she use this as a means of coping with her circumstances? What are your thoughts about Moyan’s parents? Did you find them fatalistic or realistic in their outlook on life?
- How do you think the discovery of Moyan’s “birth” into this family affects her? What was Professor Shan’s motivation for telling Moyan about this?
- Regarding the story “A Man Like Him,” why do you think Teacher Fei is so obsessed with this girl’s accusations of infidelity against her father, and why does he think she’s a liar? What do you think triggers his obsession with this girl and her father? Were you surprised that Teacher Fei sought out the girl’s father? Did you feel sympathy for either of them after their meeting?
- In “Prison,” the character Yilan is too old to have another child, but not too old to be a mother again. Why do Luo and Yilan want to risk something illegal in China (paying a surrogate) instead of adopting?
- In “The Proprietress,” Mrs. Jin appears to be very giving, taking in women and children whose husbands and fathers are on death row. But does she have ulterior motives? Does the photograph taken by the reporter reveal other stories? How did Mrs. Jin want to be remembered?
- The women investigators in “House Fire” are taken aback by their first male client. What does this story say about relationships between men and women in contemporary China, and what similar threads exist throughout other stories?
- What is most striking about the setting for the story “Number Three, Garden Road,” an old building around which newer buildings are constantly being constructed? Did you feel that the building and its residents were representative of something larger?
- Discuss how the story “Sweeping Past” portrays the generation gap between grandmother Ailin and her European-raised granddaughter Ying. What ways does the author create the relationship between these two characters? Does each character see the other as naive and inexperienced?
- Reading “Souvenir,” what was your initial reaction to the old man who approaches the young girl to tell her that she resembles his dead wife? Did you find him off-putting or did you sympathize with him? How did your view of him change? And what does this story say about misconceptions we have about strangers in day-to-day interactions such as this one in the pharmacy?
- In “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl,” what do you think Professor Dai’s intentions are when suggesting marriage between Hanfeng and Siyu? How aware is she of the true feelings of these two?
- Why do you think the final story was chosen as the title story to the collection? What traits does this story have that run throughout the entire book?
- Talk about what you think Li’s mission is with these individual stories and the collection overall. How does she want to portray China? What tactics does she use to create these characters? Would her mission have been as successful if the stories were more infused with political overtones or messages, or with less subtle, personal conflicts?