Saturday, December 25, 2010

Review: The Vagrants

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

Publication Date: February 2010
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Genre: Fiction
ISBN-13: 9780812973341

(Received for review from Random House)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Borders, IndieBound

If you live in Morehead, KY or the surrounding area:

Purchase from our local independent bookseller: CoffeeTree Books
Borrow from our local library: The Rowan County Public Library

Yiyun Li on the web: Website, Facebook, Twitter


Synopsis (Barnes & Noble):

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 1970's.

As morning dawns on the provincial city, 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.

In this spellbinding novel, the brilliant Yiyun Li gives us a powerful and beautiful portrait of human courage and despair in dramatic times.


The Vagrants is a powerful novel about the political and personal drama's erupting in China in the 1970's. Author, Yiyun Li crafts a novel that is told from many viewpoints, all converging during a pivotal time in Chinese history, in a small town called Muddy River.

Gu Shan has been arrested and is sentenced to die. She was once a follower of the Communist movement and has turned counter-revolutionary. Her story is the entry into the lives of many people who Yiyun Li uses to tell this remarkable tale. Through each a very large cast of characters Li is able to convey the desperate times and desperate circumstances China was in. This is a story about a town, it's people and how it was to survive, while all of China is being torn apart.

This novel is riveting. I had a hard time putting it down. It really captured my interest, just seeing how one person's life could have affected so many different people was amazing. Yiyun Li writes with such depth and her style gives off an elegance despite the nature of the story. She uses so many different elements to bring this novel to it's conclusion. Using character archetypes in a way that I had never seen before, Li shows the suffering of the people of China as they waited to see how their political future played out. There was a lot of sadness in this book and a sort of hopelessness that permeated it, but that only added to the effect of the book. Not every story turns out with a happy ending and I think that's something that a lot of writers tend to forget about.

I truly enjoyed this book and think that Yiyun Li is a very gifted author. I would recommend it to readers who are interested in Chinese history, or who are looking for a book with a very different style. The story itself is compelling and the political implications of the times are written with great fluidity and knowledge of the circumstances.

The Vagrants is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Yiyun Li is the author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Vagrants. A native of Beijing and a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, she is the recipient of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, the Hemmingway Foundation/PEN Award, the Whiting Writer's Award, and the Guardian First Book Award. In 2007, Granta named her one of the best American novelists under thirty-five. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories, among others. She teaches writing at the University of California, Davis, and lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and their two sons.


Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

and THIS is what I love about book blogs! I would likely not have heard of this one! It's going right on my to-buy list; I love reading about different cultures and defining moments in time. Even fictional accounts have basis in truth and help me understand events better! Thanks for the review!