Monday, May 17, 2010

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

I have to start with the description on this one.  Here it is from the back of the book:      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.

I thought that this book was excellent in so many ways.  The writing was beautiful, and the pace was perfect. The characters blended into one another's lives in small ways at first, but then the connections became more dramatic.  The story is so rich with history, which is another thing that I loved about it.  However, I wonder if I can suggest this to a friend comfortably because it is so brutal, disturbing, and raw that it kicked the emotional stuffing right out of me.  The moral choices that each character had to make were heartbreaking.  This isn't a book that's going to make you feel good, but it's one that you'll remember.  Readers with an interest in the history of China shouldn't miss it.  I'm rating it a 4/5 only because there were times it was too much for me.  I'm still glad that I read it.


Literary Feline said...

I have a copy of this book and am really looking forward to reading it. I am glad you liked it so much, Christine. It sounds like a book I will need to be in the right mood for--but it definitely sounds like my kind of book.

Christine said...

It's a heavy read, Wendy, but well worth it. But yes, don't read it on a trip to the beach. :)