Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Review | Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li

The story moves back and forth, from the present and back to a melancholic past of 20 years. It began right after the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, in Beijing. It would seem that no matter how much teeth and horns China shows to prohibit its people from remembering and discussing the said event, history cannot be erased. And perhaps, this is Yiyun Li’s simple way of remembering.

The book follows the lives of three young people from Beijing, who, after Shaoai’s poisoning and leaving her brain-damaged, drifted apart and grew estranged from each other over the years. Moran and Ruyu are both currently underachievers in America, while Boyang is a celebrated businessman in new Beijing. All three were leading a single life, having failed to keep relationships together.

Could he explain to Sizhuo that sometimes death was a mercy -that it was worse for the dead to go on living? In an ideal world, death should be the end of the story, but in this world, where they had to make do with muddles, death never ended anything neatly.

KINDER THAN SOLITUDE, despite its title, is not a happy read, nor an uplifting one. The premise is not just sad or heartbreaking, it is unsettling, in a manner of speaking. The core mystery was never resolved in a significant manner. It was not given enough heaviness if indeed it is the core of the story. Neither was the sexual violation before the poisoning.  It seems to me, they were conveniently wrapped up when all the while the book is full of psychological discourse.

Li is a masterful storyteller. I had no trouble turning each page. The prose is brilliant, no doubt, very quotable even. Hence, the 3 stars. But prose alone cannot save the entirety of a book. I’m afraid that I cannot agree with its philosophy. Being remorseless because it is 20 years too late, or believing that being repentant will serve no purpose in an already done deed is not merely emotionally cold, it is morally wrong. Choosing solitude because of previous tragedy, lack of self-confidence or self-preservation seems reasonable enough. However, settling with the knowledge that it is far kinder to be with someone who will tolerate your impertinence or inadequacy than being alone is definitely twisted in my vocabulary, especially, if that someone happens to be a murderer.

I've read A SHELTERED WOMAN, so I will not readily give up on Yiyun Li. Perhaps THE VAGRANTS will offer vindication.

Book details:
Author: Yiyun Li
Publication: Harper Collins UK/ HarperPress/4th Estate/
                       The Friday Project, March 27, 2014
Genre:  Literature & Fiction, Mystery
Rating: ★★★

* the same review appears in Goodreads.
Thank you, HarperCollins UK/HarperPress/4th Estate/The Friday Project, for lending me a copy in exchange for this honest review.


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