The Vagrants Paperback – 3 Sep 2009
- Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
- Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
- Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
- Dispatch to this address when you check out
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
'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
About the Author
Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. Her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and Guardian First Book Award. Her novel, The Vagrants, was shortlisted for Dublin IMPAC Award. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages. She was selected by Granta as one of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their two sons.
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Top customer reviews
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.
The book is set in 1979, after the death of Mao. It is based around a factual event - the denunciation and execution of 28 year old Gu-Shan, who has been accused of counterrevolutionary activity and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment followed by death. This event affected many people in the town of Muddy River - from Shan's parents through to the radio announcer responsible for whipping up the crowds, to a young, deformed girl who unknowingly watches while the Shan's vocal chords are cut to prevent her from speaking out. As the ripples travel further, other residents of the town become drawn in. A movement to clear Shan's name begins to build momentum and the fall-out from this has far reaching effects.
This debut novel, based on a true story and set in the industrial border town of Muddy City in 1979, describes a period of liberalisation after Mao's death. Here in rural China the cautious reforms of Deng Xiaoping are far away and the book centres on a 28-year old young woman, Gu Shan, who served 10 years for revolutionary activities has been retried for counter-revolutionary plotting and condemned to death. Much of the book follows the events of the day of execution and then it goes on to consider those of the next six weeks. Shan’s presence overwhelms this extraordinary book that is populated by a host of remarkable individual characters, most of whom are drawn from the depth of the common people.
We meet Shan’s aged parents, Dr and Mrs Gu, his second wife, she is uneducated by highly knowledgeable able life; Nini, a disfigured 12-year old; Bashi, an older and obsessed boy, who receives little sympathy for his mental problems; Tong, a young boy motivated by the idea of becoming a model communist and gaining a cherished red scarf, and the vagrants of the title, Mr and Mrs Hua, who collect rubbish who and the baby girls abandoned by their families. From a higher social strata there is Wu Kai, an ex-actress who is now a radio announcer with the propaganda department, who voices the attacks of local politicians against Shan. Kai has a politically-connected husband through whom we are offered glimpses of corruption and excess within the upper echelons of the Party. The timing of Shan’s retrial and execution is not incidental and the pair are suitably rewarded.
The execution leads to muted public criticism of the authorities and Li offers fascinating details of how this is effected, something that rarely finds its way into other novels of the country. The role of children [‘in summer boys swimming in the river could look up from underwater at the wavering sunshine through the transparent bodies of busy minnows, while their sisters, pounding laundry on the boulders along the bank, sometimes sang revolutionary songs in chorus, their voices as clear and playful as the water.’] and the everyday concerns of Chinese society are explored from a variety of perspectives. The author’s experience of the short story genre, she cites William Trevor as an influence, results in the novel not entirely shaking off the impression of a set of interconnected short stories. However, the quality of the writing transcends any structural defects. She even manages to introduce touches of humour into a very bleak story.
Attitudes towards Shan’s death are varied, even her parents disagree, whilst the pervading fear of betrayal by neighbours or passers by who may overhear or even make up a comment for reasons of jealousy or to impress the authorities is chillingly portrayed. The almost suicidal activities of a local cell who are openly critical of the government [Jialin, one of its leaders, is dying from TB, one of the very few unnecessary elements presented] also take the readers into areas little explored in other fiction. Within the overall story Li introduces a strange story about the relationship between Nini and Bashi that offers unnerves through its combination of sensitivity and creepiness. The author’s use of language is exemplary and leaves one marveling long after the final page.
Shan’s father is a teacher who has been especially concerned to educate women and his disillusionment with his daughter is palpable. He has an aphorism for any situation [a married couple are urged to ‘keep each other alive with your own water’, ‘Seeing is not as good as staying blind’, ‘What I own is my fortune; what I’m owed is my fat’] but these never grate or sound superficial.
Li offers a host of insights - how the vocal cords of a prisoner are cut before she is brought before the public for execution so she cannot make any final political statements - that, together with her characters, raise this book far above the usual.
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Most recent customer reviews