Cover Image: The Orange Tree

The Orange Tree

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Member Reviews

Unfortunately this one was a DNF for me. I tried a few times to get into this book, but I didn't really relate to the poemas and they weren't really for me.

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The background behind these poems gives them more meaning but they're beautiful to read. I loved reading Li's poems and working on the meaning behind them.

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A beautiful collection. I don't think I've read a collection like this before; what an exciting combination of themes and weaving of narratives. It's always so difficult to talk about poetry and why it's good because it's so subjective, but this many should experience it. The portrayal of family and history is decadent, sorrowful, and enlightening in the grasp of Li. I really can't say much more than, see for yourself.

Thank you to Netgalley and the University of Chicago Press for the advance copy of "The Orange Tree" in exchange for an honest review.

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I'm so thankful to have received digital access to The Orange Tree by Dong Li, leading up to its publication date of March 31, 2023. I thought this piece of literary fiction, translated at that, was so well done and I can't wait to run to my feed to see what my fellow readers think of this work of art. I am so thankful to NetGalley and The University of Chicago Press, additionally for the bookish love.

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The Orange Tree was a powerful book of poetry that takes you across time and place through the ravages of wartime China, what it means to grow up in such an environment and its long-lasting effects even over generations. Some of the language and descriptions are beautiful, raw, and heartbreaking; some of the images are compelling, gruesome and vibrant - there are many contrasts as you read one piece to the next. This might be the kind of book where the printed version might be better as it was hard for me to tell if my electronic/Kindle version had formatting issues (spacing) or if this was the same in the hard copy. This certainly wasn't an easy read and I think, as a reader, you need to be ready for content that is brutal and devastating, but it's definitely an important and poignant perspective that needs to be shared, understood and remembered.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the University of Chicago Press for the e-ARC.

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For today’s post I want to congratulate Dong Li on his first poetry book The Orange Tree, winner of the Phoenix Emerging Poet Book Prize, to be published by the University of Chicago Press on March 31. Through the title poem, we get a speaker who recounts a family story braided with the history of the People’s Republic of China. His writing is enthralling, ambitious, mythological. And the book’s design embraces Chinese waymarks and the vertical typography. Congratulations to Dong Li. Here is a sample poem:

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I enjoyed reading the short book of poetry that deals with Chinese history and the personal life of the poet.

It's a book that should be read many times, as there are nuances to catch, and history to ponder over.

I liked the way the poet melds the old with the new, people from the ancient times with events and people from the present and the near past.

His repetition of certain lines in reference to different personalities in history, from abbots and emperors to Tang dynasty poets, carry the depth of history and its poignancy:
"... (abbott hanshan), (tang dynasty poet zhang ji) has been dead for a long time."

I will be returning to the poet's words again and again.

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Thank you to Netgalley and University of Chicago Press for the advance copy of "The Orange Tree" in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed every poem in this collection, all were beautiful reflections on humanity, loss, and survival. The poems look back to the chaos of the past and find moments of stillness and beauty. Having at least a general knowledge of Chinese history will help you understand some of the context but I think even someone who doesn't can still enjoy these poems, because they are rooted in the experiences of normal people living through these difficult historical eras and events.

Trigger Warning: This collection touches on heavy topics like suicide, rape, and has instances of graphic violence.

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The structure of the poetry was memorable and gorgeous. It was essential to my appreciation of this work.

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"no traveler brought a good name to the family'

And yet, as we see in this collection, they travelled.

Dong Li's collection the orange tree is also a history of China and it certainly doesn't shy away from the devastation included in that history. 'Tell our Daughters' certainly stands out in that regard, which focuses on the Japanese invasion and was gruesome. Of course, violence is also included in the titular poem The Orange Tree, which focuses on a family and the horror that formation of history can unleash.

I'm not going to lie, if the introduction hadn't told me that this story was being told from the point of view of a child, I genuinely would not have realised that.

The formatting was really different and I would love to get my hands on a paperback!

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The Orange Tree is a poetry collection by author Dong Li that serves as an ode to family and the nationalism that underpins it.
In the first poem, Li contemplates the Chinese ideal of women embodying water and men embodying fire, two contrasting earth elements that somehow go together and rely on each other for balance. He subtly discusses how these perceptions of femininity and masculinity are ironic, being that when a man, after facing disaster, seeks comfort from the fury of the world, it is a woman that will "hold his cold body to her warm body." Using these ideas of contrast, Li also elaborates on the cultural and war histories of China that came about when China’s spring and autumn clashed, bringing the Great Wall down into rubble and many of the citizens with it. He believes, though, that it is the Chinese’ resilience that makes them a nation and a community like no other. Simply put, "the Chinese choose to live," as death is something one has to seek for themselves.
In the story, Li describes how the orange tree and its symbolism came to be. A gift from his great-grandpa to his grandma, the orange tree traveled with the Li family everywhere they fled after the Japanese invasion of China. It was only when they were able to find refuge that the orange tree was allowed to bloom. And with the changing of the tides of war and the tick of the death toll, the orange tree continued to bear beautiful fruit, serving as a symbol for unification and perseverance within the family.
This is when the narrator begins to shift his symbolic focus from the orange tree to the river, snaking throughout the town and breathing life into a city ravaged by violence. With the flourishing of the river, new memories flooded Li's mind, taking the place of rusted ones. He used a lovely phrase to describe his home's revitalization: the river was a "wake of skin // shield of blood // gushing // to sterilize // hill country.” When bodies fall, the river picks them up and washes them away without a trace, cleansing the city with its hands of persistence and revivification.
The next section is one in which Li tells the story of a young girl leaving her home in a manner comparable to that of a flying animal. Hoping to leave the community where women and men were raped and left for dead, this girl, holding tightly to her lilac, must face isolation and the unforgiving snow to begin a new life for herself.
He concludes the novel with a section devoted to imaging death as something as beautiful as the fire and water, the orange tree, the river, and the lilac, symbols of persistence and renaissance despite trial and tribulation. He begs readers to consider death as something more beautiful, contrary to what he himself did at the beginning of the novel, as that is the only way to find freedom and beauty in unpleasant memories.
All in all, The Orange Tree is a beautiful collection of prose and poetry in which Li displays and reasons with the ideas of loss and chaos. Only rarely in the story is there a moment of stillness or peace. With every line, Dong is pivoting into a new thought that was developed by the line before that. Furthermore, Dong is able to showcase how death, nostalgia, and change all work hand in hand in a way that makes loss and the peace it inevitably brought to his life his greatest memory of his childhood.

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The first element of The Orange Tree that is bound to grip the reader is the innovative typography and design, as well as the inclusion of calligraphy.

The titular poem is a standout poem in its own right – the recurring image of the orange tree is a bright, memorable thread that clearly weaves together the variety of perspectives and styles in which the story is told.

The Orange Tree roots itself firmly at the intersection of the personal and the political, the familial and the national and it is because of this that it can be enjoyed with or without an in-depth knowledge of the historical events being referenced.

The language is concise, detached, yet the specificity of the images betrays the author's deep emotional connection to the subject matter and it is this juxtaposition that leaves the reader unable to resist being moved by the harsh passage of history.

The restraint in the number of words per page makes the work more accessible by creating the space in one's mind that is required to fully comprehend the depth and beauty of the words printed.

Exploration of and experimentation with language itself runs throughout the book and climaxes in the glossary section.

The Orange Tree was extremely difficult to rate – if I am to focus on its innovativeness and depth, its potential as material for serious academic study, it is a certain 4/5, perhaps even a 5/5. However if I am to focus on my enjoyment of it as a leisure reader, my emotional engagement and connection with the characters and the plot, it is a 3/5 as some of the references and experimentations with form went over my head.

Trigger warning: Vivid descriptions of sexual violence in one of the poems (rivers and foreign shores)

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I don't think I can even put in to words what an incredibly stunning, daring, and devastating collection this is from Dong Li. Every single poem struck a nerve, and I appreciated the context given in Srikanth Reddy's forward for what was to come.

I would definitely recommend reading these poems one at a time; they require all of your focus (I mean that in the best way), and you'll want to sit with each one for a while after finishing.

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Dong Li’s The Orange Tree: an outstanding case of prose-verse fusion

Extraordinarily raw and personal, The Orange Tree is a testament to Dong Li’s originative mastery of poetry, to the extent of successfully transforming it into a new form that maintains intact its essential features, while providing a remarkable reading experience.

The content of this work is equally as fascinating. Topics such as family, pain, history, misfortune and community amalgamate to what I believe to be the core of this cluster of verses: the search for identity in a disrupted past.

Despite its crudeness, this work has been a rather pleasant read as it has unquestionably marked a watershed in the contemporary lyrical sphere.

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I usually don't read poetry but this intrigued me as I am interested in Chinese history. This volume is beautifully written and while it's hard to read at times, it is quite enlightening for the Western audience. My favorite poem was The Orange Tree although all were excellent. I'm glad that I had the chance to read this collection.

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[arc review]
Thank you to NetGalley and the University of Chicago Press for providing an arc in exchange for an honest review.
The Orange Tree releases March 31, 2023

”And no one ever picked oranges again.
Still the orange tree bore fruit.
Winter comes and goes.
Oranges fall and grow.”

This is a collection of poetic prose that is introspective of Chinese history. The writing style is very unique and full of passion. I loved the addition of beautiful Chinese calligraphy throughout.

I found the section titled “The Army Dreamer” difficult to read in terms of the content, but my favourite of them was “The Orange Tree”.

There are some heavy topics mentioned including suicide, rape, and other graphic and violent events.

Looking forward to seeing how this delivers in a physical reading format.
I’d recommend this to readers who enjoy Ocean Vuong’s work!

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This was not really my thing, which is my fault, but I did want to try out some poetry and see how it felt, and the description of this sounded good. It is very short, which is why I didn't give it three stars...because as an overall experience it was over too quickly. But some of the lines were quite poignant.

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I’ve always considered myself someone who just doesn’t get poetry. I try and try and try but it either goes over my head or I just end up not liking it. That’s not the case with “ The Orange Tree”. I both understood and enjoyed it. What a unique way to tell a story. This could very well be the next big book in Poetry. 5 stars.

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