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.
She did not avert her eyes from his gaze. “At least I want to believe it.” “Have you ever wondered if that’s unnatural?” Unnatural—Sizhuo’s word, but what could he use to protect himself but the younger woman’s willfulness? “Nothing,” Ruyu said, “is natural with my life.” “Including coming back?” he said. “In fact—you don’t have to believe it—but coming back seems the most natural thing that has happened to me.” “Did you come back because Sister Shaoai died?” Ruyu’s eyes looked
dropped the T-shirts on Ruyu’s lap in disgust, and Ruyu spread them on the table. In black permanent marker and block letters, the writer had written, “To Jake, a future orphan” and “To Lucas, a future orphan,” followed by his unrecognizable signature. Perhaps the writer had only meant it as a joke, a sabotaging wink to the boys behind their mother’s
which she often forgot to offer flowers; a pair of metal bookends shaped like an old man in a top hat and billowing raincoat, bending low on his cane; a stack of handmade paper, thick, sepia-toned, too beautiful to write on; and a reproduction of a Modigliani painting —a portrait of a certain Mme. Zborowska, whose eyes, under heavy, sleepy lids, looked almost blind in their pupil-less darkness. None of these objects had come into Moran’s life with specific meanings; she
to protect his child from the harm of the world unless he raised him or her to be the first to inflict pain; he would also have had to become more successful at his business, so that his child could have a chance to at least become a decent person without being trampled by others. But imagining a child—his child—being a good person was as upsetting to Boyang as imagining that child being evil. Of course there was a wide
embarrassed for her own timidity. Shaoai had always been the one to say what was on her mind, to do what she deemed the right thing. Uneasily Moran turned to her friends, and caught sight of Ruyu, who, standing apart from her and Boyang yet close enough to see Shaoai, looked on with an icy light in her eyes. “You three!” Shaoai said, turning her face toward Ruyu. “Why not come here and join me?”