Kinder Than Solitude: A Novel
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A profound mystery is at the heart of this magnificent new novel by Yiyun Li, “one of America’s best young novelists” (Newsweek) and the celebrated author of The Vagrants, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Moving back and forth in time, between America today and China in the 1990s, Kinder Than Solitude is the story of three people whose lives are changed by a murder one of them may have committed. As one of the three observes, “Even the most innocent person, when cornered, is capable of a heartless crime.”
When Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang were young, they were involved in a mysterious incident in which a friend of theirs was poisoned. Grown up, the three friends are separated by distance and personal estrangement. Moran and Ruyu live in the United States, Boyang in China; all three are haunted by what really happened in their youth, and by doubt about themselves. In California, Ruyu helps a local woman care for her family and home, avoiding entanglements, as she has done all her life. In Wisconsin, Moran visits her ex-husband, whose kindness once overcame her flight into solitude. In Beijing, Boyang struggles to deal with an inability to love, and with the outcome of what happened among the three friends twenty years before.
Brilliantly written, a breathtaking page-turner, Kinder Than Solitude resonates with provocative observations about human nature and life. In mesmerizing prose, and with profound insight, Yiyun Li unfolds this remarkable story, even as she explores the impact of personality and the past on the shape of a person’s present and future.
Praise for Kinder Than Solitude
“This is an exceptional novel, and Yiyun Li has grown into one of our major novelists.”—Salman Rushdie
“Yiyun Li infuses the traditional form with a fresh, rigorous beauty and a sense of permanence and increasing value.”—Mona Simpson, author of My Hollywood
“[A] sleek, powerful novel about the weight of memory, the brunt of loss and the myriad ways the past can crimp the soul . . . Li gives us gifts of gorgeous prose. . . . Rarely are ordinary humans given such eloquent witness.”—The Washington Post
“What makes [Kinder Than Solitude] so vivid is its humanity. . . . It is an inquiry into how the past scars us, shaping present and future, and some deeds, once committed, can never be undone.”—Los Angeles Times
“[Li’s] true gift . . . is old-fashioned storytelling [and] a sense that a life, a whole life, can be captured on pages.”—The Boston Globe
“A stunning, dark, and beautiful book . . . Yiyun Li writes with characteristic genius.”—Paul Harding, author of Tinkers and Enon
From the Hardcover edition.
Ruyu turned and looked at Edwin. “Go ahead and complain,” she said. “But don’t expect me to do it.” Edwin blushed. Do not expose your soul uninvited, she would have said if Edwin were no one’s husband, but instead she apologized for her abruptness. “Don’t mind what I said,” she said. “Celia said I wasn’t my right self today.” “Is anything the matter?” “Someone I used to know died,” Ruyu said, feeling malicious because she would not have told this to
watch out for wasps because the grapevines Teacher Pang cultivated at the end of the courtyard were known for their juicy grapes. The pomegranate tree by the fence, which was now dropping heavy-petaled, fire-colored blossoms, did not bear edible fruit, though a tree in the next quadrangle, which was not blooming quite as well, produced the sweetest pomegranates. She’d explained each family’s background: Teacher Pang and his wife, Teacher Li, were
meant to kill the fifteen-year-old princess, but she had raised an arm in defense and had begged for her life; at the sight of her gushing wound he had cried and said it was her misfortune to be born into the imperial family. Boyang remembered Moran telling the story to Ruyu that summer. They had been standing next to the tree where the emperor had hanged himself when he could not bring himself to kill his favorite
for lodging and food and tuition money, her consent to be wifely. To be wifely, to sign over her future for a one-way plane ticket: she had never agreed to love, and had not expected his love; yet it was in the name of love he had raged, and called her the coldest person he had ever met. Even a chunk of ice would have melted after his two years of trying, he had said, calling her names she had not imagined him able to.
“What does a girl your age want?” Boyang asked. Easily he could list all the things Coco wanted, none of them too expensive. He could list a few things Sizhuo desired: to hold on to her job at a time when many young people were jobless after graduation; to find a way to move up in life—by what means? he wondered, and decided that marriage was the only possible way—and purchase a small apartment,