It is, quite possibly, the most brutal, dispiriting, sad, anger-provoking, depressing novel I've ever read.
I feel as though this novel is trying to teach me so many things, but my lack of knowledge of China's history, specifically China's Cultural Revolution, is hampering me from understanding it fully. That's at the thematic, symbolic level. A...more
this is the story of the aftermath of an execution in a small provincial town (more a community than a town, really) in communist china. the narrator tells us that the historical period is the period that followed the cultural revolution, but since my knowledge of chinese hist...more
The Gu family was like any other family. They lived good quiet lives in the town of Muddy River. That all changed ten years ago. The Gu’s daughter, Gu Shan, a free spirit was raised like anyone else in the beliefs of Communism and China’s leader, Chairman Mao. Shan started thinking for herself and renounced her beliefs in communism. Shan was taken away. That was ten years ago. During t...more
Nope! It's "The Vagrants" by Yiyun Li. Take nearly enough characters to stack a George RR Martin epic, put them in rural China shortly after the Cultural Revolution, sprinkle liberally with poisoned dogs, tattletale neighbors, guilt, repression, and pure asininity and you get The Vagrants.
I'm sure it paints a realistic picture...more
The writer is literally a translator of one culture into another: He is fully aware of the unique quirks of his birth culture that are alien, even incomprehensible, to his adopted one; yet because of this knowledge, he is also able to ensure that as little nuances as possible are lost in translation.
The Western world has been relatively lucky when it comes to attract...more
When I think of Beijing in 1998, I think of a worn-out train bound for a town fifty miles from the capital. Across from me sat a Chinese man in his late twenties who, for a while, would not meet my eyes. Only after the train began moving, the noise of the rails nearly deafening, did he lean forward across the little table that separated us and say, “English?”
I nodded, grateful and relieved to have someo...more
A Review of The Vagrants
By Yiyun Li
In the wake of China’s Cultural Revolution, wrecked lives did not simply right themselves and continue on as before. The Vagrants, the first novel by award-winning short-story author Yiyun Li, examines human flotsam caught in the backwater eddies of the fictional late-’70s provincial town of Muddy River. The book opens as the spring equinox dawns. Teacher Gu rises from bed reluctantly, anticipating his daughter’s exe...more
In some ways, this novel gave me a bit of what I was looking for- a portrait of life in an ever-changing cultural landscape, where attitudes and traditions all mean something new entirely.
But unfortunately, it was just far too bleak for me personally. I am not saying I need sugar-coating; many of my favorite books...more
On the other hand, given the author is of Chinese descent, and an Iowa Writer's Workshop grad...more
The answers, like life and death in 1979 Muddy River, stem from a state of terror and broken humanity, of propaganda and quiet hope. Mostly, it's grim. Trash collectors rescue d...more
I read "The Vagrants" for a class on women's issues as seen through literature and film. Had I not needed to read it in order to participate in class discussion, I probably would have stopped reading it at some point. "The Vagrants" while beautifully well written, is a very difficult read. The story takes place in China right after the end of the Cultural Revolution and shows the interactions among an array of characters as they witness and react to a Denunciation Hearing just before a young wom...more
Reviewers were clearly impressed by The Vagrants, especially noteworthy because it is Li's first novel. They valued its memorable and nuanced characters, its simultaneous severity and humor, and the way Li creates moral ambiguity without diminishing the bravery and sacrifice of Chinese dissidents. The only complaint was that Li's portrayal of the misery of Muddy River can be somewhat overwhelming; readers "may grow numbed, or more strangely (and disturbingly), inured under its assault" (San Fran...more
The story follows the lives of several characters affected by the brutal execution of a 'counter revolutionary' by the repressive Chinese government in the la...more
This novel is engaging and captivating and yet very foreign; the time and place are so far removed for me that I had difficulty understanding a few characters and their motivations, specifically Bashi (八十). However, the glimpse into a very tremulous period in modern Chinese history and the people whom it af...more
The writing style is very simple and spare. It's easy to read, but behind the simplici...more