Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yiyun Li

Born 1972

Though born a Chinese, English is her chosen language of expression. Yiyun Li was born in Beijing China. As a student of Immunology she moved to America for further studies in 1996 intending to become a researcher just like her parents wanted her to. She had never written anything and writing was far from her mind. 

Writing happened quite by chance

During her days in America she attended an evening community writing class. She followed it up with more classes. Meanwhile she wrote some short stories. One of her stories, Immortality, was read by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Alen Mc Pherson. He was so excited he tracked Li down through a friend and sent a message saying she must continue too write. That made up her mind for her. A writer she did become.

Short stories and more..

Yiyun Li draws her subjects from China. Most of her stories are about small powerless people. Perhaps that's why they are often cynical, tragic and frustrating. Her first book, which includes the story, Immortality, was a short story collection titled A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. I like her stories but more than that I like the glimpse of China she offers. Bits of history, the mood of the people, life under a dictatorship - all of that woven together in heat rending tales. Her writing is richly sprinkled with Chinese mythology and Chinese proverbs that she translates into English lending it a quaint quality.

The novel

Set in the 1970s The Vagrants is her debut novel. It opens with the gruesome hanging of a young woman and goes on to explore how different people in the city react to it. This one is no cheerful read, nor is it for those with weak stomachs. You despair as you find the eyes of dictatorship everywhere, corrupting everything and everyone, allowing for no escape. It reminded me a bit of George Orwell's 1984. This one however is way more gruesome and graphic in gory detail. Not really my kind of book.

In China..

...Li refuses to release her books. They have been translated into over 20 languages but not in her native Mandarin. In a number if interviews she has said she feels China is not ready for her books just as much a she is not ready for them to be read in her country of birth.
Talking about whether her books represent China and its way of life she says, "It's never my job to explain China.. We never ask an American writer to represent America or a British writer to represent Britain." Yet it seems unavoidable that her characters are taken to depict China. Reminds me how Pearl Buck's The Good Earth has come to represent China of another age.

And finally it's time for the last post tomorrow. This last author, is half British, half Jamaican and aspired to be an actress before the literary world beckoned.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.


  1. I haven't read Chinese authors yet! Neither any stories taking place in China! I should start with the short story collection of hers before going for a novel!

  2. Being a short story writer,I am fascinated by this write up on Ms.Yiyun Li and would like to read her short story book.

  3. I guess this one should help me get started with Chinese authors. A very new one for me. Seems a Must Try :)

  4. This author sounds like someone to look out for. Thank you for your review.


  5. I've read a couple of chinese authors and they're intense. Li sounds intriguing.
    I am sad tomorrow's Z :D

  6. Wow! I liked how she got into the writing journey! Must check out her books, would love to know more about the Chinese world!

  7. Would love to read her book to get to know China as a country. Seems to be a very interesting read:)

  8. great read. I've written about a Chinese author today too, Guo Yue, who wrote a children's book about life during the Cultural Revolution.

    Visiting from A-Z Challenge

  9. hmm sounds interesting.


  10. The Yiyun Li - Alen Mc Pherson story is fascinating!

  11. That you for sharing, this may end up on my bookshelf yet!

  12. Fascinating that her books are available everywhere but her homeland.

  13. Thank you for sharing about Yiyun Li! I'd love to read her work some day.

    Visiting from A to Z. :0) http://thebrightersideblog.blogspot.com/2014/04/y-you-are-braver-than-you-believe.html

  14. whoa... fascinating :) and interesting to know about her!

    ~S(t)ri Writes

  15. Thanks for introducing another good author..


  16. just found you and read back thru April. Very cool authors. Nice blog

  17. Tulika, thanks for introducing me to yet another author I have never read. You do know that you are responsible for emptying my wallet, don't you?! :)

  18. Interesting. Now I'll check her work. Thanks for sharing

  19. Sounds interesting. Will check out her books.

  20. gruesome u say!! I wonder if I should read her works :)


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