Empire of Glass by Kaitlin Solimine
In the mid-1990s, an American teenager, named Lao K in Chinese, stands on Coal Hill, a park in Beijing, a loop of rope in her hand. Will she assist her Chinese homestay mother, Li-Ming, who is dying of cancer, in ending her life, or will she choose another path? Twenty years later, Lao K receives a book written by Li-Ming called “Empire of Glass,” a narrative that chronicles the lives of Li-Ming and her husband, Wang, in pre and post-revolutionary China over the last half of the twentieth century. Lao K begins translating the story, which becomes the novel we are reading. But, as translator, how can Lao K separate fact from fiction, and what will her role be in the book’s final chapter?
A grand, experimental epic–Lao K’s story is told in footnotes that run throughout the book–that chronicles the seismic changes in China over the last half century through the lens of one family’s experiences, Empire of Glass is an investigation into the workings of human memory and the veracity of oral history that pushes the boundaries of language and form in stunning and unforgettable ways.