The Orange Tree
by Dong Li
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Pub Date 31 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 01 Mar 2023
Dong Li’s The Orange Tree is a collection of narrative poems that braids forgotten legends, personal sorrows, and political upheavals into a cinematic account of Chinese history as experienced by one family. Amid chaos and catastrophe, the child narrator examines a yellowed family photo to find resemblances and learns a new language, inventing compound words to conjure and connect family stories. These invented words and the calligraphy of untranslated Chinese characters appear in lists separating the book’s narrative sections.
Li’s lyrical and experimental collection transcends the individual, placing generations of family members and anonymous others together in a single moment that surpasses chronological time. Weaving through stories of people with little means, between wars and celebrations, over bridges and walls, and between trees and gardens, Li’s poems offer intimate perspectives on times that resonate with our own. The result is an unflinching meditation on family history, collective trauma, and imaginative recovery.
The Orange Tree is the recipient of the inaugural Phoenix Emerging Poet Book Prize for 2023.
“The Orange Tree is a remarkable, powerful book of innovative lyric that recaptures the horrors of contemporary Chinese history by use of personal and collective memory—along with the memory of rivers, blossoms, fruit, and flesh. Li seeks and invents a language of grief that meanders, exquisitely and unflinchingly, across family lineage, historical violence, and trauma as he channels the lives of those who have met unspeakable atrocities. Li, a multilingual, transnational poet and translator, is a time traveler of our endlessly violent world.” -- Don Mee Choi, author of DMZ Colony, winner of the National Book Award
“The Orange Tree is a polyphonic, kinetic, book-length poem that is at once lyrical, historical, and deeply personal. With his dynamic leaps, Li takes us down the long river of modern Chinese history as it shapes the lives of one family and his imagination. His elegant phrases and crystal images probe the traumatic space between self and world. An inventive first book with fresh music.” -- Peter Balakian, author of Ozone Journal, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“The Orange Tree is a sui generis book of exigent, raw, brutal, and intimate poems. We’ll forget neither their rhythms nor their effects, the tense, staccato sentencing, the Chinese waymarks, the vertical typography, or the evocative, metaphorical kennings. Li braids fragmented histories, fable, biography, and dream into a startlingly potent art. His formally restless lines suddenly waylay us, penetrating so deeply we hesitate to look up. And as we discover, their gravity holds us back from casually moving on.” -- Forrest Gander, author of Be With, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“Is poetry possible after the particular atrocities of World War II? This book inverts Adorno’s well-known question and asks instead, ‘Is war possible after such poetry?’ The answer is ominous—where we are now, our reading of the world affirms that daily. The other thing that recommends Li’s book is the language. On the page is the physical act of Chinese being converted to English and vice versa—a conversion, more than a translation, it is electrifying.” -- Wong May, author of Picasso’s Tears: Poems 1978–2013, winner of the Windham-Campbell Prize
Average rating from 6 members
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.
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!
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.
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.
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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