Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional, illuminating book, 14 Nov 2009
This review is from: The Vagrants (Paperback)
It may seem odd to describe this book as beautifully written when it is about the execution of a young woman as a "counterrevolutionary" and the dire political consequences suffered by those who protest against the execution. This is a novel about fear and poverty and oppression, and about injustice, yet The Vagrants is perceptive, incisive, completely absorbing and, yes, beautifully written, illuminating the thoughts and motivations of simple village people who care about justice. It is written in a way that makes even the simplest and most marginalised of people of the town of Muddy River significant and worth caring about.

I was drawn in from the start. Every character in Muddy River from teacher Gu and his wife, the parents of the executed prisoner who are devastated by their daughter's disgrace, to Nini, the deformed child in a poor family who is able to find love amid the turmoil, as well as Bashi, a strange child-man who himself admits has a screw loose, are all perfectly rendered, with minute, telling details that bring out their oddness but also their humanity. However poor or downtrodden, Yiyun Li is able to convince us that these people matter.

Political oppression is a significant theme. The Vagrants is set in the 1970s, era of the Democracy Wall movement which spurred China's first student dissidents. The stirring of dissent, the courage to question the official version of events, yet the consequences of doing so is the tragedy of Muddy River. The execution is based on true events but Yiyun Li's talent lies in helping us realise that there are many towns like Muddy River throughout China. An exceptional, illuminating book and an author to watch.
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