KINDER THAN SOLITUDE by Yiyun Li

Book Quote:

“Perhaps there is a line in everyone’s life that, once crossed, imparts a certain truth that one has not been able to see before, transforming solitude from a choice into the only possible line of existence.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (MAR 21, 2014)

“Perhaps there is a line in everyone’s life that, once crossed, imparts a certain truth that one has not been able to see before, transforming solitude from a choice into the only possible line of existence.” For four friends, that line was crossed during their late teenage years, when one of them was poisoned, perhaps deliberately, perhaps accidentally, lingering in a physical limbo state until she finally dies years later.  The young man, Boyang, remains in China; the two young women, Ruyu and Moran, move to the United States. Each ends up living in what the author describes as a “life-long quarantine against love and life.”

Kinder than Solitude is not primarily a mystery of a poisoned woman nor is it an “immigrant experience” book, although it is being hailed as both. Rather, it’s a deep and insightful exploration about the human condition – how one’s past can affect one’s future, how innocence can be easily lost, and how challenging it is to get in touch with – let alone salvage – one’s better self.

“To have an identity – to be known – required one to possess an ego, yet so much more, too: a collection of people, a traceable track lining one place to another – all these had to be added to that ego or one to have any kind of identity,” Yiyun Li writes.

In the case of Moran, who married and divorced an older man she still cares for, what she called her life “…was only a way of not living, and by doing that, she had taken, here and there, parts of other people’s lives and turned them into nothing along with her own.” Riyu, the most enigmatic and detached of the characters, is an empty vessel, unable to connect or to experience much pleasure or pain, who strives to receive an “exemption from participating in life.” And Boyang, a successful entrepreneur with a cynical sense of the world, has discovered that “love measured by effort was the only love within his capacity.”

This is a deeply philosophical book, one that delves into its characters, with an ambling narrative that shifts from the shared Chinese past to the present –China, San Francisco, the Midwest. It is not for everyone – certainly not for readers who are anticipating an action-packed, page-turning suspense novel. But for those who seek insights into the human condition and love strong character-based novels, Kinder Than Solitude offers rich rewards.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 16 readers
PUBLISHER: Random House (February 25, 2014)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Yiyun Li
EXTRAS: Q&A and Excerpt
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March 21, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: California, Character Driven, China, Contemporary, Literary, US Midwest, World Lit

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