Yiyun Li--A Glimpse of Communist China

I said in a prior entry that Yiyun Li is rapidly becoming a favorite.  I read the book of short stories A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, and had the same frisson I felt when I had read Jhumpa Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies.  Now I'm hoping that I don't suffer the same disappointment that I did with Lahiri's subsequent, somewhat lackluster books. I found A Thousand Years of Good Prayers far more readable than Ha Jin's Waiting, and her novel-length fiction, The Vagrants, verifies this for me.  Alternately poetic and horrific, the novel capitalizes on her observational and poetic strengths, while showing that she has the ability to sustain suspense and storyline in the long term.  How wonderfully satisfying.  And here is an example:

from The Vagrants
Yiyun Li

In the period of indecision and uncertainty, old winter-weary snow began to melt. The ground became less solid, the black dirt oozing with moisture in the sunshine. The willow trees lining both side of the main street took on a yellow hue, which lasted a day or two before the buds turned green. It was the best green of the year--clean, fresh, shining. Boys from middle schools cut off the tender tips of the willow branches, took out the soft pith, and turned the sheaths into willow flutes. The few musical ones among them played simple melodies on the flutes and made girls their age smile.

The ice in the river mumbled at night, resisting the spring, but when the daytime came, its resolve was melted in the sunshine.

All of this in the aftermath of some of the more horrific moments of the book.  And, who knows, perhaps more horror to come?  But the tone is so wonderful, gentle and still firm.  Like the willow itself, grounded in reality, but flexible, supple, bending, and shaping space and time around it.


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