Public Books Reviews ‘The Book of Goose’

Into the Woods With Yiyun Li

By Nan Z. Da

Nietszche said that the world would be returned to fairy tales. He meant that the history of the world is a history of increasing incomprehension and obscurification, which will ultimately end in the total dark. We will, once again, become the subjects that live inside fairy tales. This frightful premonition lurks within Yiyun Li’s latest fiction, The Book of Goose. It is a strange novel, one that pairs an advanced realism with older story forms. It’s chilly here; things get very real.

Fables and fairy tales tell you how things tend to happen when it’s strong against weak, clever against stupid. Angela Carter called fairy tales “little parables of experience from which children can learn, without half the pain that Cinderella or Red Riding Hood endured, the way of the world and how to come to no harm in it.” The literary scholar Jack Zipes added that, in fairy tales, “a girl brings about her own rape and violent death because she does not know how to behave with dangerous seducers … the girl is punished because she is gullible, if not stupid, and doesn’t behave according to code.” Things are so much scarier inside fairy tales because there is no cushion between you and another person’s will, you and the will of the world. There is no room for mistakes.

Consider one such tale. Two girls of little means grow up in post–World War II Europe. They become bosom friends. Life is hard for them in shareable and unshareable ways, inspiring skullduggery and genuine heroism. They are comrades in the early days of comradeship: what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine; together we’ll make the world more livable for at least the two of us, more if we can manage it.

One friend is far more intense than the other, more clearly the proletariat of our highest ideals. Both know how to make things happen for real, but only one knows how to make things happen for real for real. Together, though not quite equally, they write stories about children that are engineered like true modern fairy tales, with death, killing, and entrapment, and underneath that, the pure pleasure of dream tasting. Read the full review at Public Books.

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