Book title: The Girl Who Played Go [+]*
Author: Shan Sa
Posted April 14, 2004

The Girl Who Played Go is set in Manchuria in the 1930s. Manchuria is occupied by Japan, but revolution is in the air. The title character (who is never named) is a 16 year-old Chinese girl who is a master go player. She regularly plays the game in her city's square, beating young and old alike. She is a feisty, independent girl who sees herself as the master of her own fate -- but she can't escape the political reality in which she lives. At the go tables she meets a young man she has not seen before. He is a Japanese spy, seeking rebels among the players.

As they play, they barely speak, but they learn the beauties and complexities of one another's thoughts and hearts through their play. The book's larger plot could easily be summarized with the phrase "the personal is political" as events in the larger Manchurian conflict become closely intertwined with the girl's fate.

I fear that I've made this sound like a typical "she was saved by love" sort of story but it most decidedly is not. Sa was born in China and immigrated to France as a young girl. The book was written in French and translated into English, resulting in interesting and engaging narrative voices, as attractive for their spareness as for their beauty. The plot has a definite non-Western flavor, although my reading of non-Western literature is limited enough that I'm somewhat embarrassed to characterize it that way. Overall it was interesting, if somewhat deliberate. Recommended.

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Caveat Lector: This website documents my own reading adventure. I am the only reviewer and book selection is guided by my own tastes and interests. You may or may not agree with my opinions -- that's what makes the world an interesting place.

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