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The Vagrantsby Yiyun Li
Synopses & Reviews
Shortlisted for the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
In luminous prose, award-winning author Yiyun Li weaves together the lives of unforgettable characters who are forced to make moral choices, and choices for survival, in China in the late 1970s.
As morning dawns on the provincial city of Muddy River, a spirited young woman, Gu Shan, once a devoted follower of Chairman Mao, has renounced her faith in Communism. Now a political prisoner, she is to be executed for her dissent. While Gu Shan’s distraught mother makes bold decisions, her father begins to retreat into memories. Neither of them imagines that their daughter’s death will have profound and far-reaching effects, in Muddy River and beyond. Among the characters affected are Kai, a beautiful radio announcer who is married to a man from a powerful family; Tong, a lonely seven-year-old boy; and Nini, a hungry young girl. Beijing is being rocked by the Democratic Wall Movement, an anti-Communist groundswell designed to move the country toward a more enlightened and open society, but the government backlash will be severe.
In this spellbinding novel, the brilliant Yiyun Li gives us a powerful and beautiful portrait of human courage and despair in dramatic times.
"Li's magnificent and jaw-droppingly grim novel centers on the 1979 execution of a Chinese counterrevolutionary in the provincial town of Muddy River and spirals outward into a scathing indictment of Communist China. Former Red Guard leader Shan Gu is scheduled to be executed after a denunciation ceremony presided over by Kai, the city's radio announcer. At the ceremony, Shan doesn't speak (her vocal chords have been severed), and before she's shot, her kidneys are extracted — by Kai's favor-currying husband &mdahs; for transplant to a high regional official. After Shan's execution, Kwen, a local sadist, and Bashi, a 19-year-old with pedophile leanings, bury Shan, but not before further mutilating the body. While Shan's parents are bereft, others celebrate, including the family of 12-year-old Nini, born deformed after militant Shan kicked Nini's mother in her pregnant belly. Nini dreams of falling in love and — in the novel's intricate overlapping of fates — hooks up with Bashi, providing the one relatively positive moment in this panorama of cruelty and betrayal. Li records these events dispassionately and with such a magisterial sense of direction that the reader can't help being drawn into the novel, like a sleeper trapped in an anxiety dream." Publishers Weekly (Copyright © Reed Business Information, Inc. All rights reserved.)
“Li has poured her prodigious talent intoThe Vagrants.... Familiarity with Chinese history isn't at all necessary to relate to the grief, pain, confusion, fear, loyalty, suspicion, and love portrayed by the characters in this deeply affecting story....The Vagrants has a confident, democratic style that gives a distinct voice to every character. ‘Growing up in China, you learn you can never trust one person's words, Li says. ‘People's stories don't always match. But one thing is clear: Li's stories matter.”Elle
“Yiyun Li has written a book that is as important politically as it is artistically. The Vagrants is an enormous achievement.” Ann Patchett, author of Run
“Ezra Pound said that literature is news that stays news. Nothing could be a more apt description of Yiyun Lis extraordinary new novel, The Vagrants. It is a book about a street, but a street that turns the corner into another street, then turns into a town, and soon becomes a whole country. Li finds the music in the smaller lives and makes them symphonic. This is history and memory at its most raw and brilliant, reminiscent of Saramago, Aciman, and Coetzee. The Vagrants is a novel to be savored and discussed.” Colum McCann, author of Zoli
“Every once in a while a voice and a subject are so perfectly matched that it seems as if this writer must have been born to write this book. The China that Yiyun Li shows us is one most Americans haven't seen, but her tender and devastating vision of the ways human beings love and betray one another would be recognizable to a citizen of any nation on earth.” Nell Freudenberger, author of The Dissident
“This is a book of loss and pain and fear that manages to include such unexpected tenderness and grace notes that, just as one can bear it no longer, one cannot put it down. This is not an easy read, only a necessary and deeply moving one.” Amy Bloom, author of Away
“A starkly moving portrayal of China in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, this book weaves together the stories of a vivid group of characters all struggling to find a home in their own country. Yiyun Li writes with a quiet, steady force, at once stoic and heartbreaking.” Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl
“There is a magnetic small-town universality to The Vagrants…but this is small-town universality with a difference. That difference is Communist China. The town isn't small; it only feels that way, as a provincial city where everyone seems to know his neighbor's business.” Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Yiyun Li's extraordinary debut novel…beautifully paced, exquisitely detailed…an amazing technical achievement….Li's genius lies in her ability to blend fact with an endlessly imaginative sense of the interplay of forces that powered the massive shift in the social order that led to Tiananmen Square…In this most amazing first novel, Yiyun Li has found a way to combine the jeweled precision of her short-story-writers gaze with a spellbinding vision of the power of the human spirit.” Chicago Tribune
“She bridges our world to the Chinese world with a mind that is incredibly supple and subtle.” W magazine
“A Balzacian look at one community's suppressed loves and betrayals.” Vogue
“A sweeping novel of struggle, survival, and love in the time of oppression.... [an] illuminating, morally complex, and symphonic novel.” O magazine
“[A] rich, expansive novel, which captures the anxieties and brutality of life during the last days of Maoism.... Li's story has an empathetic, uncannily graceful tone.” Kirkus Reviews
The astonishing first novel from the author of the award-winning story collection "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" weaves together the delicate moments between mothers and sons, husbands and wives, illuminating the reality of oppression and pain.
About the Author
Yiyun Li is a winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, and the Guardian First Book Award. She grew up in Beijing and attended Peking University. She came to the United States in 1996 to study medicine and started writing two years later. After receiving a master’s degree in immunology from the University of Iowa, she attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received an MFA. The author of The Vagrants and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, Li was selected for a Whiting Writers’ Award and was named by Granta as one of best young American novelists under thirty-five. Li teaches at the University of California, Davis, and lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and their two sons.
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