Many books have been written about people's lives affected by the cultural revolution in communist China, but Yiyun Li's portrayals stood out for me. So often I read books by author with a strong political agenda (Wild Swan came to mind). Li's story and characters don't seem to impose too much judgements but allows the readers to decide for themselves. As a result, the characters are complex and the plot is multi-layered.
At the beginning, it's so easy to think that it's a story about how people of Muddy River rise against the tyrannical government for the execution of an innocent woman Shan, that it's a story about evil versus good. But as the story goes on, it becomes difficult to tell who is the goodie and who is the badie. You get to learn that Shan is not all that innocent, and the government official like Han is not just a cold-hearted b*****d.
As a Chinese born in post-cultural revolution era but still affected by it through the stories told by families and friends, as well as observations of the emotional trauma experienced by people growing up during CR, the stories told in the book sometimes felt a bit too close to home and haunting. Nevertheless the book's dark humour lightened up the mood at places.
In my opinion Yiyun Li is one of the most important contemporary Chinese authors today. I highly recommend this book. If you enjoy this one, check out her collection of short stories 'A thousand years of prayers' too.