Shortlisted for the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
In luminous prose, award-winning author Yiyun Li weaves together the lives of unforgettable characters who are forced to make moral choices, and choices for survival, in China in the late 1970s.
As morning dawns on the provincial city of Muddy River, a spirited young woman, Gu Shan, once a devoted follower of Chairman Mao, has renounced her faith in Communism. Now a political prisoner, she is to be executed for her dissent. While Gu Shan’s distraught mother makes bold decisions, her father begins to retreat into memories. Neither of them imagines that their daughter’s death will have profound and far-reaching effects, in Muddy River and beyond. Among the characters affected are Kai, a beautiful radio announcer who is married to a man from a powerful family; Tong, a lonely seven-year-old boy; and Nini, a hungry young girl. Beijing is being rocked by the Democratic Wall Movement, an anti-Communist groundswell designed to move the country toward a more enlightened and open society, but the government backlash will be severe.
In this spellbinding novel, the brilliant Yiyun Li gives us a powerful and beautiful portrait of human courage and despair in dramatic times.
Yiyun Li is the author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Vagrants. A native of Beijing and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is the recipient of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, the Whiting Writers’ Award, and the Guardian First Book Award. In 2007, Granta named her one of the best American novelists under thirty-five. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories, among others. She teaches writing at the University of California, Davis, and lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and their two sons.
“Powerful and thoughtful . . . a revelation.”—The Washington Post
“Extraordinary . . . beautifully paced, exquisitely detailed . . . In this most amazing first novel, Yiyun Li has found a way to combine the jeweled precision of her short-story-writer’s gaze with a spellbinding vision of the power of the human spirit.”—Chicago Tribune
“The Vagrants is pure pleasure and a must-read.”—San Francisco magazine
“[Li is] one of America’s best young novelists.”—Newsweek
“[A] fully transporting vision.”—The New York Times