Author(s): Yiyun Li
The much-anticipated first novel from the Guardian First Book Award-winning Chinese writer. In the provincial town of Muddy Waters in China, a young woman named Gu Shan is sentenced to death for her loss of faith in Communism. She is twenty-eight years old and has already spent ten years in prison. The citizens stage a protest after her death and, over the following six weeks, the town goes through uncertainty, hope and fear until eventually the rebellion is brutally suppressed. They are all taken on a painful journey, from one young woman's death to another. We follow the pain of Gu Shan's parents, the hope and fear of the leaders of the protest and their families. Even those who seem unconnected to the tragedy -- an eleven-year-old boy seeking fame and glory, a nineteen-year-old village idiot in love with a young and deformed girl, an old couple making a living by scavenging the town's garbage cans -- are caught up in a remorseless turn of events. Yiyun Li's novel is based on the true story which took place in China in 1979.
Shortlisted for International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2011.
'Yiyun Li has written a book that is as important politically as it is artistically. "The Vagrants" is an enormous achievement.' Ann Patchett 'A starkly moving portrayal of China in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, this book weaves together the stories of a vivid group of characters all struggling to find a home in their own country. Yiyun Li writes with a quiet, steady force, at once stoic and heartbreaking.' Peter Ho Davies 'A masterpiece ... "The Vagrants" can put you in mind of Tolstoy or Chekhov!Its mass rallies wouldn't be out of place in Margaret Atwood's dystopia, "The Handmaid's Tale"!Most of all, though, its shut-in, shabby world of party tyranny, nonstop surveillance and loudspeakers spouting propaganda into the smoky air resembles Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" -- with a grim twist: Orwell's novel envisaged a nightmare that could happen; Li's describes one that did.' Peter Kemp, Sunday Times 'With its controlled understatement and scrupulous and unsparing lucidity, "The Vagrants" is a work of great moral poise and dignity. As a chronicle of political betrayal under a modern dictatorship, "The Vagrants" is a minor classic; I have not read such a compelling work in years.' Ian Thomson, Independent 'An eloquent, brooding novel.' Independent on Sunday 'This is a book of immense power and it will leave you reeling.' New Statesman 'This is a book of loss and pain and fear that manages to include such unexpected tenderness and grace notes that, just as one can bear it no longer, one cannot put it down. This is not an easy read, only a necessary and deeply moving one.' Amy Bloom 'Li creates highly believable characters!with deceptive casual-seeming mastery!"The Vagrants" is filled with violence and horror!but Li finds room for some humour here and there. It's also written in a brisk, unpretentious way, with very few moments of calculated pathos in spite of the heartrending material on offer.' Guardian 'The subtlety with which she tackles her big, moral themes -- is matched only by the measured story telling.' Independent "The Vagrants" is an important novel, a requiem for forgotten victims and a careful, honest portrait of what China has been, even as it emerges from the shadow of those years.' Stephanie Merrit, Observer 'The power of precise portraiture underpins Li's first, dazzlingly successful, foray into novel-writing.' TLS 'The Vagrants is told in an understated and unsentimental voice, with echoes of the elegance of the Irish writer William Trevor, whom the author thanks in her acknowledgement' FT 'Yiyun Li is a remarkable writer, this harrowing story is told with an exquisite touch and great humanity' Psychologies magazine Praise for 'A Thousand Years of Good Prayers': 'She is utterly at home in the short story as shaped by Chekhov and Maupassant, in the tones currently used by William Trevor or Alice Munro. Her own talent is to deal with people who have no obvious power or importance, who have been disappointed in small ways which Li manages to make seem heart-wrenching and full of strange resonance!a writer of great but quiet ambition!What concerns her most is the large matter of love, in all its twists and turns, and time itself, and how little we reckon with it, and disappointment in all its strange variations, and levels of deep emotion and attachment buried in silence and misunderstanding.' Colm Toibin, New York Review of Books 'Li's writing is beautifully spare and controlled.' Times 'Yiyun's confidence as a storyteller lends her fiction a traditional air, but there's nothing old fashioned about her perspective!When I've sampled other recent Chinese writing, I've had a sense of western publishers being seduced by the novelty of it all, snapping up authors with dramatic histories and slim talents. Yiyun is the real deal!Yiyun has the talent, the vision and the respect for life's insoluble mysteries to be a truly fine writer.' Michel Faber, Guardian 'A writer of rare perceptiveness and originality.' Claire Armitstead 'Li has a remarkable talent for telling the story of the whole of China through apparently insignificant lives!With this small collection, she has already become one of the most important Chinese voices of our time.' New Statesman 'I am not alone in thinking the stories are masterpieces.' Colm Toibin, Irish Times 'Wonderfully inventive.' Sunday Tribune 'Her stories are effortlessly unsettling, often resolutely strange even as they are affectingly human.' Belinda McKeon, Irish Times 'Li's moving, engrossing stories are particular in their place -- they could only happen in that culture, under that regime -- but universal in their themes and their relevance.' Observer 'Vibrant, assured prose.' Saturday Guardian 'Exemplary in their pertinent detail and insightful observation. A novel by Yiyun Li would be more than welcome.' Scotland on Sunday 'Mesmerising!Timeless tales of love, hope and fate against a backdrop of dramatic change.' Daily Mail 'A wonderfully well-written, fascinating and affecting collection of stories about modern China.' Evening Standard (Books of the Year) 'Poignant, breathing portraits so sharply drawn, so uncompromisingly told in her own voice, they are as luminous, revealing and unforgettable as a Vermeer interior.' Glasgow Herald 'A short collection of beautifully subtle portraits.' Marie Claire (Marie Claire Book Club winner)
Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing, China, and moved to the United States in 1996. She is the recipient of several prizes for her writing and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Li's stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review and elsewhere. Her collection of short stories, 'A Thousand Years of Good Prayers', won the Guardian First Book Award. She lives in Iowa City, USA, with her husband and their two sons.