E S Pittenger, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by E S Pittenger)
Told through the eyes of the townspeople of Muddy River on the day of Shan’s execution for being a political dissident, Li provides a vivid and condemning picture of China’s post-Maoist era. All the characters are sharply drawn, their personalities are strong and varied. They are alive on the page: the good --Teacher Gu, Shan’s father; the not so good -- a sexual pervert who lures a hapless girl crippled by birth defects; the want to be good --Kai, the broadcast personality blessed with a perfect but dull husband and her lover. And the almost holy -- an old couple, once homeless, who rescue and foster abandoned Chinese baby girls. Kai and her tubercular lover both tremble on the verge of dissident activism on the heels of the Democracy Wall Movement in Beijing. They, along with Shan's mother create a heroic martyr out of Shan, much to the distress of Teacher Gu. Soon, Muddy River feels the stirrings of rebellion and yearnings for reform. What will be their fate?
It’s impossible for me to know, but I feel an authenticity in this depiction of that period of recent Chinese history. As fiction it also rings true. The reader feels like she is “living under the volcano” as socio-political tension seems to be mounting toward another revolution. But it’s a tension countered by a lassitude that also makes the reader feel that nothing will ever bring change because the grip of tyranny is too strong. Yiyun Li embeds his realistic tale in this allegorical novel that ranges from intimate portraiture to considerations of humanity and morality, as well as the political dynamics of a China teetering under the weight of oppression.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (3 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)
Diane Lederman, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by Diane Lederman)
This is a haunting look 1979 China starting with the execution of a Chinese counterrevolutionary in the provincial town of Muddy River. The writing and storytelling is so evocative that one feels like one is there.
Publisher's Weekly called it magnificent and it was but also "jaw-droppingly grim," which it was too. But at the same time so true.
“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.”
by Ann Patchett, author of Run,
“Yiyun Li has written a book that is as important politically as it is artistically. The Vagrants is an enormous achievement.”
by Colum McCann, author of Zoli,
“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.”
by Nell Freudenberger, author of The Dissident,
“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.”
by Amy Bloom, author of Away,
“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.”
by Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl,
“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.”
by Janet Maslin, The New York Times,
“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.”
by Chicago Tribune,
“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.”
“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.”
“A sweeping novel of struggle, survival, and love in the time of oppression.... [an] illuminating, morally complex, and symphonic novel.” O magazine
by Kirkus Reviews,
“[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.”
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.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.