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The Vagrants

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The Vagrants Cover

ISBN13: 9781400063130
ISBN10: 1400063132
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Gu Shan is a member of the generation that came of age during the Cultural Revolution. How do characters who are part of older generations-such as the Huas, Teacher and Mrs. Gu-act and react towards the Revolution and then the later counter revolution?

2. Among the many characters we meet in Muddy River, there are several distinct family groups, including Nini, with her parents and five sisters, Bashi and his grandmother, Kai, her husband, baby, and in-laws, and Teacher Gu and his wife and daughter. What do these different family units tell the reader about family life in China since the Revolution? What traditions have been upheld?

3. Teacher Gu reminds his wife of an ancient poem: “Seeing is not as good as staying blind” (103). What was he trying to tell her? What characters experience incidents or confront issues of sight versus blindness? How does the message of this line relate to The Vagrants as a whole?

4. What does this novel tell us about being an insider versus an outsider? How do characters who are clearly outsiders-such as Tong, who was raised in a village, and Bashi, who does not have a unit, fare in Muddy River? How are they viewed by regular workers and schoolchildren, and how do they interact with such characters?

5. Gu Shans denunciation brings together residents from all parts of Muddy River society, yet the reader does not know her as well as many other characters. What can you infer about her character, beliefs, and behavior from the other characters? Was she guilty? Was she innocent?

6. Certain characters, such as Kai, outwardly appear to be agents of the state, and disseminate state propaganda. In which instances do characters unwittingly act as agents of the state? What do these examples show us about oppressive governments and societies?

7. Ghosts, such as those of Gu Shan or Bashis grandmother, are invoked at different points throughout the novel. What role do ghosts play in the minds of the characters? In the larger story? What does the juxtaposition of modern government propaganda with traditional beliefs such as ghosts illustrate?

8. When Han fears a reversal of his good fortune, he reminds Kai of the saying that “the one who robs and succeeds will become the king, and the one who tries and fails will be called a criminal” (208). He clearly refers to his own political future, but to which other characters and situations in The Vagrants can this saying be applied? Do some of these situations recur in literature and history? Compare these external examples to the ones in the novel.

9. Though the events in the novel are complex, they represent only one relatively small, provincial city in the vastness of China. Stepping back, do you think that the circumstances in Muddy River were similar to, or differ from, circumstances in other cities in China? Beijing? How do the characters view Beijing?

10. The stark and vivid images in this novel are unique. Can you point out a few effective images that helped the novel come alive for you as a reader?

11. Discuss some of the most universal themes of The Vagrants. What makes them universal? In what ways do Yiyun Lis distinctive style and use of language contribute to, or reinforce, these themes?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

jadelin, October 9, 2010 (view all comments by jadelin)
Easily one of the most engrossing, thought provoking novels I've read, The Vagrants is sad, gritty and brilliantly written. Li Yiyun's use of language, prose and her incredible ability to weave stories into a story kept me from putting this book down. The political, social and cultural backdrop of Communist party dominated China are apt in providing some insight into our modern world in a global sense as well as that of the individual.. The anguish and suffering in The Vagrants reminded me of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. The characters in both stories struggled the ultimate struggle of life versus freedom. I highly recommend The Vagrants to those who are interested in the culture of oppressed societies and those who are excited by being engaged by supreme literary gifts such as those of Li Yiyun.
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jadelin, October 9, 2010 (view all comments by jadelin)
Easily one of the most engrossing, thought provoking novels I've read, The Vagrants is sad, gritty and brilliantly written. Li Yiyun's use of language, prose and her incredible ability to weave stories into a story kept me from putting this book down. The political, social and cultural backdrop of Communist party dominated China are apt in providing some insight into our modern world in a global sense as well as that of the individual.. The anguish and suffering in The Vagrants reminded me of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. The characters in both stories struggled the ultimate struggle of life versus freedom. I highly recommend The Vagrants to those who are interested in the culture of oppressed societies and those who are excited by being engaged by supreme literary gifts such as those of Li Yiyan.
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(0 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
Mark Pritchard, January 22, 2009 (view all comments by Mark Pritchard)
I just finished reading this novel, and I can't say enough good things about it. It is complex, delicate and beautifully written, while at the same time it illustrates the most heartless and brutal human behavior. As a yet-unpublished novelist, I admire greatly its technical expertise and its brilliant use of perspective. It's one of the best literary novels I've read in a few years.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781400063130
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Li, Yiyun
Publisher:
Random House
Subject:
City and town life
Subject:
History
Subject:
General
Subject:
Historical fiction
Subject:
China History 20th century.
Subject:
General Fiction
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20090203
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
9.40x6.62x1.03 in. 1.37 lbs.

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Vagrants Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.50 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Random House - English 9781400063130 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "Merciless as nature, Li spares her readers not one telling detail: the bloodstained bandages covering the wounds where Gu Shan's vocal cords have been cut and her kidneys scavenged by a Communist Party official; the tiny shack furnished with one chair, a cot and a tree stump where a tubercular intellectual conspires to redeem that unjust death; the myriad silences accompanying a former government news announcer to her grave. Yet this meticulousness enriches us with beauties both wild and mundane. Willow buds swell with 'the best green of the year — clean, fresh, shining'; 'white nameless flowers bloom all summer' in the meadows where female babies are abandoned to freeze in winter; a young girl feels 'a small tickling sensation...somewhere in her body that she had not known existed.'" (read the entire Ms. review)
"Review" by , "In its acute tracing of ambivalences and unexpected twists and turns in people's motivation and behaviour, The Vagrants can put you in mind of Tolstoy or Chekhov."
"Review" by , "In this most amazing first novel, Yiyun Li has found a way to combine the jeweled precision of her short-story-writer's gaze with a spellbinding vision of the power of the human spirit to not only survive near-annihilation, but to open up a space in the devastation for some kind of healing."
"Review" by , "A harrowing portrait of a woman's execution by an oppressive Chinese regime, and how her death affects an entire provincial town... Li's story has an empathetic, uncannily graceful tone. A complex, downbeat, ultimately admirable tale of a cloaked portion of Chinese history."
"Review" by , "Unflinching and mesmerizing, Li traces the contagion of evil with stunning precision and compassion in this tragic and beautiful novel of conscience."
"Review" by , "Yiyun Li has written a book that is as important politically as it is artistically. The Vagrants is an enormous achievement."
"Review" by , "Ezra Pound said that literature is news that stays news. Nothing could be a more apt description of Yiyun Li's 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."
"Review" by , "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."
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