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The Vagrants
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About the Author

Yiyun Li is the author of six works of fiction--Must I Go, Where Reasons End, Kinder Than Solitude, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, The Vagrants, and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl--and the memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. She is the recipient of many awards, including a PEN/Hemingway Award, a PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, and a Windham-Campbell Prize, and was featured in The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 fiction issue. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories, among other publications. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Reviews

Following her short story collection Thousand Years of Good Prayers (LJ 9/1/05), Li's debut novel interestingly details life in the town of Muddy River, China, in 1979. Assorted characters are gradually introduced as stories unfold and revolve around the denunciation ceremony, execution, and attempted retribution for Shan, the daughter of retired Teacher Gu and his wife. Here, Li's central character, 19-year-old Bashi, intermingles with Old Kwen, a 56-year-old bachelor, as well as that of a young boy named Tong and an outcast 12-year-old girl named Nini. One of six sisters, Nini is plagued with severe birth deformities, but she and Bashi soon develop a friendship and tender bond that eventually leads Bashi to ask Nini to become his child bride. Added to this story are darker moments, like the sexual mutilation of Shan's body by Old Kwen, which Bashi tries to expose. Limited passages detailing particular scenes are not for the squeamish but are likely no worse than those found in gritty crime novels. Like other works set during this period in China, the novel is realistically filled with elements of inequality and despair. Content aside, Li's writing can be likened to that of Ha Jin, as she is a talented storyteller who is able to juggle multiple story lines and lead the reader through numerous highs and lows in this character-driven work. Well written and recommended for larger fiction collections, particularly public and academic libraries strong in Asian literature.--Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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--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. (Feb.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

"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"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 [is] 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-writer's 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 "Magnificent."--Publishers Weekly (starred review) "Li has poured her prodigious talent into The 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

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