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Kinder than Solitude
Yiyun Li, MacArthur Fellow and PEN/Hemingway Award-winner
Alternating between past and present, China and America, an omniscient narrator traces the lives of three childhood friends.
The Tang Dynasty – the orange powder enjoyed by astronauts plays a key role in the story
Bleak House, Jude the Obscure, Heavier than Heavy: A Biography of Kurt Kobain
Ruyu, a grim child sent to Beijing by her grandaunts.
Christina Ricci circa The Addams Family.
Not on your life. It’s a world devoid of beauty.
Can't say I found one.
Relentlessly dreary from beginning to end, Kinder than Solitude presents the world as a dusty repository of heartless, futile hostility. This brittle despair might be right up my alley, but the author, Yiyun Li, offers ornate craft in place of meaning.
Ruyu and her two friends, Moran and Boyang, grow from peculiar little children into standard-issue disaffected adults. Their world is loveless, their hearts empty. Even the poisoning at the novel’s core is devoid of passion. But this arid depression isn't the problem. The overly crafted prose is itself a void. The book reads as though it's grave and profound, but the wisdom is a fraud.
The author is forever offering grandiose pronouncements to illustrate the details of her characters’ thoughts and feelings.
“When we place our beloved in front of the critical eyes of others, we feel diminished along with the subject being scrutinized.”
Oh, really? This ostentatious insight illustrates a young girl’s love of old Beijing and her anxiety about introducing it to her new friend. But is it true? The expansion of one particular character’s fleeting thought into a universal truth applicable to all of humanity serves only to unmask the sagacity as pretension.
“But in not giving something a proper name, even in one’s most private thoughts, one makes the mistake of including too much; a childhood friendship, a first love, companionship – all these, confined by their names, would, in touching one part of the heart, spare other, unexposed parts.”
The wordcraft is breathtaking; it's a gorgeous sentence. But what does it actually mean? And is it true?
Bookshots review written for LitReactor.com by Ed Sikov