Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li~★★★

Author: Yiyun Li
The Vagrants
Release Date:
February 16th, 2010
Random House Trade Paperbacks

Book Jacket: "In luminous prose, award-winning author Yiyan 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 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."
Taryn's Review: I didn't find the book to be powerful; I often had to force myself through it. For me, there was just too much going on and too many characters to try and sympathize with, which made it nearly impossible to create an emotional bond with the book.

I really wish Li would have narrowed down her characters so that the reader could connect with someone or one of the stories. The people in the book are centered around the execution of Gu Shan, a person Li told us very little about. Shan's parents' story is told, mainly her father's story, but for me, without knowing more about Gu Shan and her life, I couldn't connect with the Gus.

Bashi was another main character, a very mixed character. Bashi can be awful and cared little about his actions and their consequences on others; yet, his story interweaved intensely with Tong's. In fact, Bashi was the reason that Tong's story ended up the way it did as well as Nini's. Bashi was someone you sincerely hated at times. He also had an odd fascination with having a little girl, which was lost on me.

There were more characters I could talk about, but it makes my mind swirl a bit to get into them. Li is a good writer and at moments I would get into the reading, but then I was forced to switch characters which I didn't feel worked well in this book. It isn't a book I would discourage anyone from reading, but I'm not sure I would encourage anyone to pick it up, either.

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