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The Vagrants

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  2,400 Ratings  ·  419 Reviews
BONUS: This edition contains a The Vagrantsdiscussion guide.

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 Chair
ebook, 352 pages
Published February 3rd 2009 by Random House
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Jennifer (aka EM)
May 19, 2012 Jennifer (aka EM) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tough read. Almost impossible to rate. Did I (3) like or (4) really like this novel? No. I endured it. Do I think it (5) amazing? Yes, yes ... that I do.

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
May 20, 2012 jo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: east-asia
i've been trying to get away from writing a review of this book. i've been coming up with scenarios in which such writing is impossible. i have to walk the dog. i have to go to bed. there is too much distraction right now.

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
Apr 02, 2009 Melani rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very well written book. It was like being given the power to see into the minds of men and women. The pity was that their minds were so wracked and sickened that you found yourself reading faster and faster so that you could escape from them -- escape from the spaces in peoples minds and lives that were so intimate -- escape from a despair that was so cloying you could hardly tolerate it. I did not give this book four stars because some of the incidents in the novel were so graphic tha ...more
A WRITER who was raised in one culture but writes in the language of another is a precious commodity for readers from the latter.

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
Mar 04, 2009 Gina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exquisite telling of an absolutely brutal story. The book begins on the day of the grisly execution of an allegedly counterrevolutionary woman in a small town in China two years after the death of Mao. It continues with the story of how several memorable townspeople are affected by the aftermath of this wrongful death. Do they protest, turn away, submit, betray? It doesn't seem to make a difference as they iron fist of tyranny seems to gradually tighten around each of them in turn, squeezing ...more
Mar 10, 2014 Nezabravka rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Много хубаво написана книга! Тематиката определено е тежка. Много грозни и страшни неща се случват на персонажите,но едновременно с това има и много човешки и красиви моменти. Определено си заслужаваше да я прочета!
Feb 25, 2009 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story takes place back in the seventies. A time when China was dealing with the Tiananmen Square uprising.

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
May 02, 2009 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(This review was originally published on The Rumpus:

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
Nov 10, 2015 Bogdan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-flavor
There are some books that I cannot imagine whey they are not yet translated into Romanian. If I was a book editor or could influence any of them, I would propose this title to be included in current offer as soon as possible because it is better than most of what it is available to be purchased now, with similar topic of 20th century Chinese society. But I am not a book editor neither can influence one, so I will continue to buy novels not yet translated that I consider can be worthy.

Sometimes f
I think the subject matter of this book is important. I really wanted to like this book. I liked the subject matter, and I found her to be more honest than most other Chinese writers, which is saying something. It's probably because she no longer lives in China, and doesn't have to worry about the whole censorship idea. Certainly wouldn't have been able to read or buy this book in China.

However, that being said, I think she had too many characters in this book. It is hard to really know which on
Feb 20, 2011 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
"Then the dog leapt out to the frozen river, leaving small flowerlike paw prints in the snow" (27).
"...for the first time in her life, she felt its immense worhtlessness, when a cat's small paw could destroy the grandest dream" (29).
“Disturbed too were other souls” (127).
“It was to be endured, as anything beyond one’s control” (162).
“He went into a nearby store and asked for a small bag of sunflower seeds, and when he came out, he put a few of the seeds into his mouth and chewed them into an ine
Clif Hostetler
Aug 20, 2009 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though the characters are fictional, the world it portrays was once real (1979 China, two years after Mao's death). The book is loosely based upon a true story. However, the name of the city and names of characters are all fictional (except for the distant city of Beijing and the former leader, Mao). I have heard of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution under Mao, and was under the impression that things started getting better after Mao's death. They may have, but it was a long slow process, an ...more
Alice Meloy
Oct 05, 2009 Alice Meloy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm so grateful for writers such as Yiyun Li who, through their novels, take us places we've never really known nor understood. In THE VAGRANTS, Li draws a Breugel-like picture of a small town in post-Maoist China where family and community relationships show the strains of life under the Cultural Revolution and the uncertainties that follwed. Teacher Gu and his wife collapse when their daughter is executed as a counterrevolutionary; 12-year old Nini deals with life as a cripple and the oldest o ...more
Feb 26, 2009 Tony rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chinese
Certainly paints a dismal picture of China in the 1970s. There were several wonderfully drawn characters: the intelligent yet impotent Teacher Gu; the morally bankrupt young scoundrel Bashi; the crippled Nini, prenatally defeated. Yet, so many other characters were just black silhouettes on the background. I liked this book and I will read whatever Yiyun Li writes next. But, I didn't love it. I guess I didn't need to be convinced that the Chinese version of Communism is not a rational existence; ...more
Feb 01, 2011 Kkraemer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Luminous prose, almost too clear and picturesque for the scenes that it reveals. This is an amazing book. The main character in the book, the one that controls all of the others, is the context in which these people live. This is a study in how people try to make sense of utter and demoralizing chaos. These characters will stay with me forever.
Тежка, мрачна, черна, песимистична книга, която ми приседна почти в буквалния смисъл. Хем харесвам описателния и изчистен, лековат начин по който Июн Ли разказва, хем се чудех реалистични ли са всички нещастия, които се струпват на главите на героите. Парадоксални са постъпките, размислите, желанията на всички мъже и жени в "Калната река" - точно някой от тях успее да предизвика съчувствие и симпатия и веднага след това е готов с постъпка, грозна и осъдителна според всички параграфи.
Първите стот
John Vanderslice
Dec 14, 2015 John Vanderslice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really interesting novel about China in the late 1970s, just past the end of the Cultural Revolution, with the country attempting to figure out just which direction it intends to follow. The greater uncertainty on a national level allows on a local level for thoughts of reform, a development hoped and worked for by some of the residents of Muddy River, a smallish worker's town far enough away from Beijing to feel rural and isolated, but not so far away that actions don't have immediate ...more
Mar 10, 2016 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ahhh set in the time of China's cultural revolution, it was narrated through different lives who were all seemingly intertwined by the execution of a counterrevolutionary in a small village. There are sad books which leave you feeling almost wistful, and then there are sad books like this; heartbreaking, ambiguous, and leaves you struggling with the ideals of humanity. It wasn't an arduous read (it was a rather short story actually), but it was definitely tough to read because of how brutal the ...more
Dec 30, 2013 Mileto rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Уникална история, описваща действителността в Китай в края на 70-те години. Много завладяваща, много тъжна, детайлна и грабваща читателя в събитията от тези смутни времена.
Kaushani Bhattacharya
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 29, 2011 Garry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm generally happy with most of my reviews on Goodreads, but a couple have haunted me - I need to correct them.

When I reviewed The Vagrants 6 months ago, I was struck by the power of the story. I also loved the way that a tiny random action by one character would set wheels in motion that had major consequences for another.

However; there were some things that annoyed me as I was reading, and in retrospect I think some of the characters were poorly drawn. The plot was strong enough for me to g
Regina Lindsey
Sep 25, 2012 Regina Lindsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this debut novel The Vagrants opens on a day in 1979 when the people of Muddy River will attend the mandatory denunciation ceremony for a 28-year old counter-revolutionary, Shu Gan, whose crime was writing down her thoughts. While the book is set in China and the reader gets a glimpse into the Mao history and life in a Communist society, the subject matter is really more about human nature. The characters are rich and complex. There's aging Teacher Gu, who raised his daughter to read and thin ...more
This book is not one for the faint of heart, or easily depressed. In fact, despite its excellent prose and purpose, I probably would recommend it whole-heartedly to those readers who 1) are really interested in the social and political black hole of Communist China 2) really interested in the debilitating effects of a totalitarian state on its populace 3) like to remain in a state of constant depression.

On the other hand, given the author is of Chinese descent, and an Iowa Writer's Workshop grad
Jan 04, 2012 Christina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Christina by: NY Times Book Review podcast
Shelves: fiction, china, 2012
When a pebble is thrown into a lake, rings start spreading further and further away from the spot where the pebble penetrated the water. So it is with humans. Our actions influence the people around us and spread in wider and wider circles. But with humans, it’s the relations between people that determines how the rings spread and these relations are not always easy to see. Sometimes people secretly know each other – or used to know each other. And sometimes, something is done to a person that c ...more
Who knew I'd love a book about 1970s Communist China so much? Yiyun Li succeeds in bringing this tumultuous period to life through the inhabitants of Muddy River, a small town swept up by revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces. I was thoroughly captivated by Li's cast of characters, ranging from the Huas, an old beggar couple who fostered seven orphaned girls and then were made to give them up because they weren't their birth parents (WTF?), to the ten-year-old Tong, who struggles with li ...more
Apr 25, 2010 Mark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A novel of abject misery and the horrible things that desperate people do to each other when they're pushed. Is it one of the works of Cormac McCarthy? Perhaps Faulkner?

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
May 26, 2012 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Jun 23, 2010 Dora rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like this book. I'm particularly interested in this era of China, and in general I love reading fiction that takes place in a culture with extreme political change.

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
Bookmarks Magazine
Apr 15, 2009 Bookmarks Magazine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: may-june-2009

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

Aug 16, 2009 Pbwritr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: foreign
Excellent book. Set in a small city in China, Muddy River, following numerous characters around during the course of just a couple of weeks in 1979, shortly after the Cultural Revolution ended. Gu Shan is being executed as a counterrevolutionary, and the actions of a number of people intersect each other, impact upon each other, and have mostly negative consequences. Deftly woven into the narrative is a clear-eyed view of life in the Communist state--public outhouses, tiny houses, starvation, be ...more
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Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing, China and moved to the United States in 1996. She received an MFA from Iowa Writers' Workshop and an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. Her stories and essays have been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review,and elsewhere. She has received a Whiting Writers' Award and was awarded a Lannan Foundation residency in Marfa, TX. Her debut ...more
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