Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

Yiyun Li. Random House, $28 (238p) ISBN 978-0-399-58909-6
The vexed intersection between writing and living (or not living) is explored in these ruminative essays. Novelist Li (Kinder Than Solitude) explores tenuous subjects—ruptures in time, the difficulty of writing autobiographical fiction, the pleasures of melodrama—in meandering pieces that wander through personal reminiscences and literary meditations. Braided in are fragmented recollections from her youth in China, including a stint in the People’s Liberation Army; her migration to America to become an immunologist, a career she abandoned to write fiction; stays in mental hospitals; travels as a literary celebrity to meet other literati; and intricate appreciations of writers, including Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Bowen, and William Trevor. The book can be lugubrious; Li repeatedly visits the theme of suicide—including her own morbid impulses—and is given to gray, fretful melancholia (“There is an emptiness in me.... What if I become less than nothing when I get rid of the emptiness?”). Much of the text is given over to belletristic why-we-write head scratchers such as “this tireless drive to write must have something to do with what cannot be told.” But the wispy philosophizing is redeemed by Li’s brilliance at rendering her lived experience in novelistic scenes of limpid prose and subtly moving emotion. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 10/24/2016
Release date: 02/21/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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