The figurative language of Lisa Ko…

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of similies from Lisa Ko…

The first of her family to be born in the US, Chinese-American writer Lisa Ko (pictured above) is the author of the novel The Leavers, a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction and winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

I can’t remember who told me about this book but I found the story  — about an undocumented Chinese immigrant, who goes to work one day and never comes home, leaving behind her 11-year-old son — to be compelling. I also found Ko’s use of figurative language exquisite. Here are my favourite examples:

  • Snow fell like clots of wet laundry.
  • The singer’s head shaved bald around the sides…sprouted up [on top] like a fistful of licorice.
  • There were girls with geometric tattoos up the insides of their forearms, hair bundled up like snakes, eyeliner packed on so thick it looked like it had been applied with Sharpie.
  • He heard melodies in everything, and with them saw colors, his body gravitating to rhythm the way a plant arched up to the light.
  • It was a frigid, hard bite of a winter afternoon.
  • Deming saw how the skin on his neck was droopy and crinkled, deep brown circles blooming under his eyes like a wet cup on a paper plate.
  • I could sit by the window and watch the cranes and backhoe diggers, cement spreading like a cracked egg across Fujian Province.
  • “Lucky, lucky, lucky,” I chanted, watching the waves lap at the wood like hundreds of tiny tongues.
  • My sneakers produced kissing noises as they moved against the floor.
  • I had been struck by the sale, mildew marinade of sweat, glue, and floor cleaner [in the school].
  • The guy being both bearded and longhaired [was] a shag carpet of a man.
  • Fifty students sat at long tables arranged bleacher-style up the back of Peterson Hall, most studying their laptops, multiple chat windows dotting their screens like hungry mosquitoes.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on March 8/18.

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