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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kinder Than Solitude
This poignant novel looks at the relationship between three friends and an event which has shaped their lives. The book begins with Boyang, a ‘diamond’ bachelor at thirty seven; with a good income and spacious housing in crowded Beijing, he is divorced with no children. When we meet him, he is arranging the cremation of Shaoai, who was poisoned twenty one...
Published 15 months ago by S Riaz

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Death would be kinder than solitude
I loved Yiyun Li's previous book, The Vagrants (5 stars), but I just didn't click with The Kindness of Solitude in the same way. I found this latest book to be a much denser read, with too much philosophising for my taste. It was also billed as a mystery around who was responsible for the poisoning that is central to the novel, but there was no twist, we knew early on...
Published 12 months ago by DubaiReader


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kinder Than Solitude, 25 Feb. 2014
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 10 REVIEWER)   
This poignant novel looks at the relationship between three friends and an event which has shaped their lives. The book begins with Boyang, a ‘diamond’ bachelor at thirty seven; with a good income and spacious housing in crowded Beijing, he is divorced with no children. When we meet him, he is arranging the cremation of Shaoai, who was poisoned twenty one years ago and has finally died after years of illness and suffering. On the death of Shaoai, he sends an email to his two childhood friends – Moran and Ruyu. Both women now live in America, although both fend off love and loneliness. The three are bound by waiting for Shaoai to die, because the poison was taken from the university laboratory of Boyang’s mother, shortly after the three friends visited there.

During this book the storyline swops from past to present, as we learn more about the four central participants of this novel and what happened both before Shaoai was poisoned and how it changed the characters lives. This is a slow moving book, but one which certainly has a lot of impact. There is Boyang, whose parents are more interested in their genius daughter; Moran, whose whole life is set in the Beijing quadrangle – the courtyard of friends and neighbours a communal stage she enjoys and feels safe in – but who now lives a solitary life; the political and aggressive Shaoai, who resents having Ruyu to live as a paying guest in her parent’s home and, lastly, Ruyu, the orphan child, self contained and uncommunicative. What happened, all those years ago – was the poisoning attempted murder, an unsuccessful suicide or a freak accident and, finally, who was to blame? With Shaoai now dead, can the three friends finally let go of their self imposed solitude and make peace with what happened? I found this a really emotive, deeply moving and well written book, with characters I cared about and who really came alive on the pages of this excellent novel which I recommend highly.

I received a copy of this book, from the publisher, for review.
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5.0 out of 5 stars How lies can affect entire lives, 24 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Kinder Than Solitude (Paperback)
Award winning author, Yiyun Li’s new novel, Kinder Than Solitude is a book about deception. Everyone and every entity in it – lies. From a brace of unreliable narrators, whose first lies are to themselves, through the Chinese government of the 1980’s to God himself, the Christian one in this case, eventually proves to be untrustworthy. This is a big book, not in terms of its only 255 pages, but in the breadth and density of its ideas.

It begins with a cremation. Boyang, the only male character of any note in the book, is a moderately successful real-estate developer in modern day China. He has accompanied the remains of a school colleague, who, after being, maybe, accidentally poisoned 21 years earlier, has finally died. This much delayed ending opens the passage for all the main actors to consider and reassess their lives. Boyang and his parents have become part of the nouveau riche entrepreneurial class of modern Beijing. He is divorced and seems unable to sustain any kind of lasting or deep relationship with a woman.
The other two important characters are Moran, another school friend, and Ruyu whose arrival as a border into Shoai’s home is the catalyst for the crucial event. The narrative structure shifts between 21st century China, in the months and years just after the massacre in Tiananmen Square, and America – the promised land. Different chapters focus on the perceptions of these three people, both then and now.

The dead woman, Shaoai is presented as a doomed radical. Her place her at university has been withdrawn because of her participation in the demonstrations against the government, and with that she has forfeited any chance at a productive life in the China of the time. A bitter, angry and self-destructive creature, did she deserve the awful existence that was forced on her?

Nominally, we explore the question of how and why Shaoai was poisoned. Even this is a deception, because it is far from what this engrossing book is really about.

If I had to put it into a single sentence, what it is about, it might be this. ‘How do the lies we tell ourselves resonate outward until they strangle not only ourselves but all those who come into close contact with us?’

The author Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. She is therefore especially qualified to illuminate the China of the late 20th century. What struck me most powerfully is the degree to which people had lie about their lives. At the very least, they were silenced; complaint was not encouraged or tolerated. As someone who lives in a now free, post-communist country, I have deep empathy with the strategies that people living under oppressive rulers must adopt to survive. But as a teacher of their children, I have also seen the terrible price for this, paid in apathy and hopelessness.
And yet, and yet…. in a recent essay, the author wrote,

“I did not yet know that some people were assigned a fate that left them on the sidelines, listening. It was beyond a young person’s understanding that such a fate could also be one’s fortune.” The New Yorker, 22 December 2014

Some eventually find the knowledge to use their experiences, others do not. How and why this happens is a main theme of this fine novel. This is not a fun read. Although the language is not difficult, there is so much going on, so many things to ponder, that I kept stopping or rereading a passage because I wanted to look more deeply into it. It is also about much more than three Chinese characters, it is about how our past can infect and cripple our present and future if we do not examine it honestly.
I totally recommend Kinder Than Solitude. 5*****
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5.0 out of 5 stars ’The dead did not fade when they remained unacknowledged.’, 6 Feb. 2015
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This story, which moves between contemporary America and China around the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, involves the lives of four people: Moran, Ruyu, Boyang and Shaoai. When Shaoai is poisoned, quite possibly by one of the other three, their lives move in different directions and they become separated. Moran and Ruyu move to the United States, while Boyang remains in China. Their lives and their capacity for connecting to others is blighted by what happened the day Shaoai was poisoned.

‘Places do not die or vanish, yet one can obliterate their existence, just as one can a lover from an ill-fated affair.’

As we follow the lives of Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang, wondering about what really happened, and about Shaoai’s lingering amongst the living for 20 years after being poisoned, it’s difficult not to think that each of the four have been dying as a consequence of the poisoning. And yet, while my overwhelming sense is of sadness and loss, there’s something beautiful in the way Yinyun Li tells this story. Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang each help others but cannot allow others to form attachments to them. Would their lives have been different if Shaoai had not been poisoned? Who poisoned Shaoai, and why?

There are many questions raised in this novel, and few clear-cut answers. For me, the actual events twenty years ago became less important than their continuing impact. This is a novel that has invited me to think about how lives are influenced and unfold. It is also a novel that I will want to reread at some stage.

‘One could easily trace a life lived in solitude.’

Note: my thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read this novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Death would be kinder than solitude, 22 May 2014
By 
DubaiReader "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
I loved Yiyun Li's previous book, The Vagrants (5 stars), but I just didn't click with The Kindness of Solitude in the same way. I found this latest book to be a much denser read, with too much philosophising for my taste. It was also billed as a mystery around who was responsible for the poisoning that is central to the novel, but there was no twist, we knew early on who had committed the crime.

Ruyu is an orphan, who was very lucky to be adopted by the two ladies on whose doorstep she was left. She is less fortunate that they seem to be emotionally stunted and raise her to be the same way. She is sent to Beijing at the age of fifteen, to live with a family and go to a school that recognises her talents for the accordion.
The family's daughter is several years older and they must share a bed in the small house in the communal quadrangle. There she meets Moran and Boyang, who are of a similar age to her, and they all go to school together.

'The poisoning' is alluded to early on in the book and we gradually gather various facts pertaining to this incident. Meanwhile there are frequent diversions both back and forward in time, which are well handled, if somewhat erratic. This event was a turning point in the lives of everyone involved and Moran and Ruyu emigrate to America, while Boyang remains in Beijing.
A large part of the book is spent with these characters as adults. They all seem to be struggling to find a place in the world, failing at both marriages and friendships.

For me, there was too much about how the characters felt and why they felt that way. I enjoyed the book most when the narrative took over from the psychological analysis. However, I did enjoy the image of the communal quadrangle, with all the families working together as a unit, sharing what little they had.
I would highly recommend The Vagrants, but The Kindness of Solitude was disappointing in comparison.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Beijing mystery, 1 May 2014
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This is quite a long, complex, and at times confusing, novel which shifts between characters, time and place. It opens in present day Beijing where Boyang has just attended the funeral of his childhood friend Shaoi. She has died after a long illness which has its origin in events that happened twenty years ago when Shaoi, a university student, was living in a shared Beijing courtyard house with high school students Boyang and two girls, Moran and Ruyu.

Moran and Ruyu are now living rootless lives in the USA while Boyang has money and a bachelor lifestyle in Beijing. There has been no recent contact between the three apart from occasional emails concerning Shaoi's health from Boyang.

It is Ruyu - an abandoned Chinese infant, bought up by elderly Christian 'aunts' - who seems to be the protagonist that pulls existing bonds between the friends apart. She is the stranger who arrives in Beijing as a teenager to share the home, and even bed, of a resentful Shaoi. Jumping forward to the present day, after several failed relationships, she is still living on the outside of other family's lives as a home help / babysitter. Is she cold and heartless or is she as much a victim of time and place as other young people growing up in China in the years following the cultural revolution?

Part mystery, part character study and part philosophical study of the nature of solitude and loneliness this novel was alternately satisfying and hard to get to grips with. I think if could have been a bit more taut and balanced between character, time and place - some of the sections on Moran and Ruyu's lives in the USA were too diverting from the central storyline. The questions that the author is posing - what has happened that has left these characters in solitude and is there something kinder that they can reach out to - are not quite fulfilled in the way that I hoped them to be. Some of the philosophical asides obscure rather than illuminate the story that this could have been.

The novel is a departure from Yiyun Li's previous - The Vagrants - which focused solely on a group of characters brought together in a counterrevolutionary uprising in one Chinese town in 1979. But it does have echoes of some of her short stories and of her own life - where Chinese people are uprooted and must adapt to the lifestyle of a different culture in the USA. Despite this novel's flaws, I look forward to reading more from this compelling author.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual book which drew me in, 14 April 2014
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I found the slow pace of this book completely captivating and the nuanced relationships between the main characters, and their relationships with other people, excellent. The plot is sparely drawn but that made me really pay attention and enjoy the gentle unfolding of this tale.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very hard read. but stick with it,, 12 July 2014
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This review is from: Kinder Than Solitude (Hardcover)
very hard read . but stick with it,
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, sad and captivating, 27 Mar. 2014
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Kinder Than Solitude (Hardcover)
Yiyun Li's "Kinder Than Solitude" opens with a death but the story goes back much further than that. When orphaned Ruyu arrives in Beijing to stay with a distant relation to go to school, she finds herself sharing a bedroom with the rebellious Shaoai and going to school with the serious Moran and her friend Boyang. Ruyu is not an easy character and her arrival seems to disrupt everyone's lives even though Moran and Boyang look after her. However an 'accident' changes everything. All four of them live with the consequences of what happened either physically or mentally. Moran and Ruyu both leave China and settle in the US, while Boyang and Shaoai stay in China. The book switches between the events of the past and the present.

One of the things that I particularly admired about the book was that the adult version of the characters, particularly Moran and Ruyu, are believable adult versions of the characters that they were when they were younger. This sounds an obvious thing but often the characters portrayed as children seem to be either ostensibly the same people when they are older in books or completely different characters. Here though they retain the essence of their younger selves but are clearly affected by the events that they have been through. It makes the story more believable and ultimately moving.

It's a book that is both thoughtful and often sad. Each one of these young people is very much alone in the world even when they have company. Combined with the strength of Yiyun Li's prose, this philosophical insight is often beautiful and moving. Every now and then a phrase or sentence seems to jump out and beg to be remembered.

If there is one very minor reservation that I have about the book it's that the female characters, who dominate the story, are much more rounded and believable than the males. Poor Boyang seems to melt into the background for almost all of the story while Ruyu, Moran and Shaoai positively jump off the page. You might not like any of the three completely, but they are all fascinating and believable. And sad.

It is the back story that gets most attention and this feels right. The present day sections can feel a little like an unwelcome interruption as the reader wants to find out what did happen with the 'accident'. The publisher describes the book as 'a breathtaking page-turner'. I have to say that while I did want to get to the bottom of the who did what to whom and why aspect, the description suggests a fast paced, action story. At least it does to me. But that's not at all what this is. In fact, it's rather slow and thoughtful, and all the better for that. They were spot on with the 'mesmerizing prose' description though.

I knew the name of Yiyun Li from her winning of the Guardian First Book Award, but I had not got around to reading any of her books. On the basis of this book, I have been missing out and will be eagerly catching up now.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 9 May 2015
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Not a patch on 'The Vagrants'. The characters were shallow and the storyline uninteresting. I will not be reading any more of her books.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 19 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: Kinder Than Solitude (Hardcover)
have just started reading it.
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Kinder Than Solitude
Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li (Hardcover - 27 Mar. 2014)
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