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3 of 3 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 9 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 7 months ago by DubaiReader


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3 of 3 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 review is from: Kinder Than Solitude (Kindle Edition)
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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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)   
This review is from: Kinder Than Solitude (Kindle Edition)
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 review is from: Kinder Than Solitude (Kindle Edition)
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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This review is from: Kinder Than Solitude (Kindle Edition)
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 100 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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