The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa

Translated by Adriana Hunter


92315As the Japanese military invades 1930s Manchuria, a young girl approaches her own sexual coming of age. Drawn into a complex triangle with two boys, she distracts herself from the onslaught of adulthood by playing the game of go with strangers in a public square–and yet the force of desire, like the occupation, proves inevitable. Unbeknownst to the girl who plays go, her most worthy and frequent opponent is a Japanese soldier in disguise. Captivated by her beauty as much as by her bold, unpredictable approach to the strategy game, the soldier finds his loyalties challenged. Is there room on the path to war for that most revolutionary of acts: falling in love?


This book left me with a big, “Huh. Well.” at the end. While I enjoyed the journey I’m not sure exactly where Sa’s leading me.

The good:

  • The prose is beautiful with some wonderful images and lines.

We think we move forward in time, but we are always prisoners of the past. To leave… that is always a good thing.

I still don’t understand why he said no. Why do we want to run away when we recognize our own happiness?

  • The story has go! I learned go in college and have a soft spot for it.

The neither-here-nor-there:

  • Man, I need to know more about the Japanese in Manchuria. I feel like I would have gotten a lot more out of the novel if I understood more of the historical background.

The not-so-good:

  • While go is in the novel it isn’t described very well. It’s kind of like describing a chess match while only referencing the king and queen – there is so much more depth there.
  • The ending is very dramatic, to the point of being melodramatic.
  • I’m not sure what the author wants me to think about beyond the awfulness of the time and place. The nature of love? Instead of “hmmm, interesting” I thought “huh, okay”.

All in all it’s a well written book but the slightly rushed plot and general “wha?” ness of it left me non-plussed. If 1930s China is your thing (obviously, it’s not mine) you’ll fall right into it.