- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (February 21, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0399589090
- ISBN-13: 978-0399589096
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 30 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 21, 2017
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“Li has stared in the face of much that is beautiful and ugly and treacherous and illuminating—and from her experience she has produced a nourishing exploration of the will to live willfully.”—The Washington Post
“Li’s transformation into a writer—and her striking success (she is the winner of a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant, among other prestigious awards)—is nothing short of astonishing. . . . For someone who says that ‘pain was my private matter’ and considers ‘invisibility’ a ‘luxury,’ writing about these experiences cannot have been easy. . . . Immeasurable loss hovers just behind these pages, but in sacrificing her first tongue, Li tenuously acquires in her adopted one some legible form of ‘self.’ English, Li’s first language in writing, is the only one in which she could have told this story, one in which Li says she feels, finally, ‘invisible but not estranged.’”—The New York Times Book Review
“An arrestingly lucid, intellectually vital series of contemplations on art, identity, and depression.”—The Boston Globe
“Delicate as a watercolor . . . a rumination on literature and [Li’s] long battle with depression.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Li is an exemplary storyteller and this account of her journey back to equilibrium, assisted by her closest companion, literature, is as powerful as any of her award-winning fiction, with the dark fixture of her Beijing past at its centre.”—Financial Times
“Every writer is a reader first, and Dear Friend is Li’s haunted, luminous love letter to the words that shaped her. . . . Her own prose is both lovely and opaque, fitfully illuminating a radiant landscape of the personal and profound.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Yiyun Li’s prose is lean and intense, and her ideas about books and writing are wholly original.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“[Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life is] not an empirical study of mental illness, but a collection of very personal observations, a story as poetic and wending as its title. . . . Li’s writing unfolds slowly, like a story shared between good friends. That seems to be the point: She writes to connect with her readers on the deepest emotional level. And she succeeds.”—HuffPost
“A work of arresting revelations . . . A writer of meticulous reasoning, probing sensitivity, candor, and poise, [Yiyun] Li parses mental states with psychological and philosophical precision in a beautifully measured and structured style born of both her scientific and literary backgrounds.”—Booklist
“In this exquisite, intimate, lyrical memoir, Yiyun Li reveals her life in flashes appended to an arrestingly coherent philosophy of time, self, and place. Uniting the discipline of a scientist with the empathy of a novelist, she scatters profound and often difficult truths through these generous, wise, challenging pages.”—Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree
“Yiyun Li has written a remarkable account of her literary life, begun in her youth in China with the books that first engaged her in the great conversations of literature. In her own emergence as an important and gifted writer in English she has brought a new voice to that great world. She has also been, in the deepest sense, sustained by it. Her new book is a meditation on the fact that literature itself lives and gives life.”—Marilynne Robinson, author of Gilead
“Literature, national identity versus the individual self, the clash of public and private, the mysterious nature of relationship, indeed, human nature itself—these subjects and more are explored with remarkable subtlety and rare, limpid mental beauty. A must-read for anyone trying to stay sane in a world that might be perceived as insane.”—Mary Gaitskill, author of The Mare
“This extraordinary book is the story of a writer being made and making herself. It is the story of depression coming in waves and being beaten back through love and stubbornness. And also it is one of our finest writers scrutinizing the books that have mattered most to her.”—Akhil Sharma, author of Family Life
“Reading Yiyun Li feels like being inside a mind—a quietly forceful, unrelenting mind. Within the limits of language, which she all but touches, she unfolds an argument with the self. She is suspicious of the very concept of the self, but she does not, ultimately, refuse its possibilities. ‘What a long way it is from one life to another,’ she writes, while closing that space.”—Eula Biss, author of On Immunity
About the Author
Yiyun Li is the author of four works of fiction—Kinder Than Solitude, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, The Vagrants, and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl—and the memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. A native of Beijing and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is the recipient of many awards, including a PEN/Hemingway Award and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the “20 Under 40” fiction writers to watch. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories, among other publications. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with her husband and their two sons.
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For a decade, Li tried to be a perfect mother, writer and full-time worker. During those 10 years, she used to write between midnight and four in the morning --- and then one day she just could not do it anymore. She became depressed and even tried to commit suicide. As a result, she was hospitalized twice. She wrote DEAR FRIEND, FROM MY LIFE I WRITE TO YOU IN YOUR LIFE for two years, and her intention, at first, was to argue for and against suicide at the same time. But once one starts reading this magnificent memoir, it soon becomes obvious that this is about much more than that. The reader will not find out the details of Li’s depression or suicide attempt, and she does not even write too much about her hospital stays. There is no recollection of her dark times, because this is a memoir about healing.
DEAR FRIEND does not have a linear plot line. Instead of providing insight into her childhood and youth in China, move to the US, depression, hospital visits and healing, Li takes the reader on an intimate journey. Yes, bits and pieces about her life in China and her hospitalization are scattered throughout the book, but what dominates are her thoughts about writing and references to the literature that she read during her healing process. In a way, this is a homage to Li’s favorite authors in whose works she found solace in her dark times. Thus she refers to such writers as Turgenev, Kierkegaard, Hardy, Gorky, Green, Chekov and Mansfield, and a whole chapter is devoted to William Trevor and their friendship.
This is neither an easy nor a fast read. It is pregnant with difficult thoughts and reflections on life, death, writing, the relationship between a writer and his/her characters, and the writer and his/her readers. Li also poses a question about identity and language, because she writes solely in English, her second language.
With her recollections of the books she read in her teens, Li transported me back to my own adolescent years, a time when electronic devices didn’t dominate our lives and we could surrender to reading. The book rouses a desire to read not only all the authors she mentions here, but also her own works.
DEAR FRIEND is a beautifully crafted memoir in which Li masterfully combines childhood memories with the life and work of great authors and her own intimate thoughts on life, death and writing. Although it is divided into nine chapters, each dealing with a different issue, the book should be read as a whole. Only that way will one get the complete picture.
Reviewed by Dunja Bonacci Skenderovic
Arriving in the U.S. from China, Li felt like a new and liberated person. Leaving her career as a scientist, she would graduate from the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop, doing most of her early writing between midnight and 4:00 AM. Li began by sharing details of her lonely childhood in the family apartment in Beijing. Family responsibilities likely included helping care for her mentally unstable mother; her father was described as “fatalistic” and “stoic”—teaching Li meditation when she was 11. Li’s sister was a med student during the Tiananmen Square Protests/Massacre (1989) and came to the aid of individuals during the hunger strikes in Beijing.
Early on, literature played an important role in Li’s life, her book is a testament to the therapeutic effects of literary influence, direction, solace and the connection with literary figures having similar situations as our own. Li traveled to midland Ireland, to study the prolific novelist John McGahern (1934-2006): he had lived in “quiet desperation” partially isolated from others.
Thomas Mann was sharply critical of the double suicide of Austrian novelist/playwright Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) with his second wife Lotte Altmann. Li recalled the suicidal urge and the intense need to stop pain. Vague references were made throughout the book of Li’s mental health hospitalizations, which seemed like temporary shadowy background occurrences.
Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev (1818-83) had never married, instead obsessively loved a beautiful opera singer and befriended her husband. Many of the author’s and poet’s Li profiled were lesser known single, solitary, individuals, and her inspiration from their work was easily recognized: though readers may not personally relate, agree, or identify with her subject matter or views. For example Li wrote...“A writer and reader should never be allowed to meet. They live in different time frames. When a book takes on a life for a reader it is already dead for the writer.” It was a good thing that Irish author William Trevor (1928-2016) didn’t share this view: he corresponded with Li, and met her for lunch in Boston in 2007. Li had his first note to her framed, and is one of her most prized possessions.
Although Li’s books have been translated in over 20 languages, Li realized a “private salvation” in “disowning” her native language, and felt that many Chinese (from China and the west) viewed her as a “cultural traitor” for not producing more writing in Chinese. During her mental episodes of un-wellness, Li dreamt of her life in Beijing, becoming an American citizen in 2007. This book took about two years to produce and must be read (and re-read) carefully to absorb the meaning. Li’s thought process was often difficult to follow, her reflections could be bleak and depressing, and it was easier to feel sympathetic towards her. Li teaches creative writing at the University of California. Honestly not recommended for the common reader—this book would be very beneficial for literary mental health study and/or research. ~With appreciation to the Seattle Public Library.