Sunday, November 23, 2014
Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li
Teenage impulsivity ruins four lives
Ruyu, a laconic orphan, raised and philosophically molded by a pair of quasi-Catholic elderly women, arrives in Beijing to attend high school and board at the home of family friends. She shares a bed with Shaoai, whose first year at college has been marred by the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Shaoai has participated in the demonstrations, and the crushing of the dissent has meant the crushing of Shaoai’s future. This has made her cynical and she likes tormenting the silent unworldly Ruyu. Ruyu is befriended by two classmates who also live in the compound, handsome Boyang, and caring Moran. After Shaoai drinks a glass of poisoned Tang, however, leaving her severely brain damaged, eventually the three others fail in adulthood both at material achievement and emotional intimacy.
This book disappointed me, especially after I loved The Vagrants so much. Halfway through this one I didn’t care about any of these drips. The American sections where the two girls, now middle aged women, trudge around winter landscapes in sackcloth and ashes, go on far too long. Could it be that my feelings are a function of well yes I enjoy your stories of spiritual desperation in totalitarian China but perhaps I cannot appreciate your stories of spiritual desperation in the affluent US. There are twelve different kinds of latte at Starbucks. What then is the problem? Here the truly compelling story is what exactly happened back in the bedroom in Beijing. Also, the writing is far more vivid describing the compound with the lively neighbors, and the parts where the three kids bike around Beijing.
For me, the big "mystery" reveal was ho him and it is established way too late that Boyang’s mother has access to poison, although it’s clear enough that this novel is not structured as a traditional whodunit. The paragraphs get preachy at times, and there seemed to be too much showing instead of telling. However, I thought it was pretty cool that Ruyu played the accordion. More of that please.