Kinder Than Solitude

Yiyun Li, Author
Yiyun Li. Random, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6814-2
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-8129-9602-9
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-8129-8016-5
Hardcover - 312 pages - 978-0-00-732982-3
Hardcover - 336 pages - 978-0-00-730313-7
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Li (The Vagrants) became one of the writers in the New Yorker’s prestigious “20 Under 40” list, largely on the strength of her widely anthologized short stories, but in her second novel we follow a group of friends who came of age in Tiananmen Square era Beijing; there’s the preternaturally close Boyang and Moran, the distrustful orphan Ruyu, thrust into their midst after a devoutly Catholic upbringing, and, at the center of their affections, the political dissident Shaoai. But their circle is ruptured when Shaoai is poisoned by one of their number. Shaoai lives—barely—for 21 more years, but her contemporaries flounder in the interim. Boyang has become a playboy and serial “sugar daddy,” the once-outgoing Moran is a divorcée and spiritual shut-in living in America, and Ruyu, also an emigrant to America, is housekeeper to an upscale family with an inflated idea of their benevolence. As word of Shaoai’s death spreads and Boyang urges the others to return to China, each reflects on where their past has left them… and who is the murderer among them. Li is excellent at getting us to distrust her characters, but the tension is stretched too thin to sustain a story that never quite comes alive as either political allegory or sprawling social novel. (Feb.)
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