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Comment: The item shows wear from consistent use, but it remains in good condition and works perfectly. All pages and cover are intact (including the dust cover, if applicable). Spine may show signs of wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting. May include "From the library of" labels.
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The Vagrants: A Novel Paperback – Deckle Edge, February 16, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, February 2009During the Cultural Revolution countless unspeakable acts went down in the otherwise unremarkable industrial town of Muddy River. Lovers betrayed lovers, children denounced their parents, and neighbors became sworn enemies. A few years later, the townspeople have convened at the public stadium to witness the execution of Gu Shan. A Red Guard leader in her youth, she has received the death penalty for her counterrevolutionary writings and unrepentant attitude. In Yiyun Li's startling debut novel, The Vagrants, we are introduced to Gu's parents, neighbors, and a handful of Muddy River's social outcasts whose lives have been irrevocably affected by her life and death. Yiyun Li's unblinking and unpredictable fictional narrative demonstrates how corruption and cruelty, fear, and moral ambiguity at the level of the individual reflect the dehumanization of an entire society. The Vagrants establishes Li as an important new voice in American fiction. --Lauren Nemroff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Li's magnificent and jaw-droppingly grim novel centers on the 1979 execution of a Chinese counterrevolutionary in the provincial town of Muddy River and spirals outward into a scathing indictment of Communist China. Former Red Guard leader Shan Gu is scheduled to be executed after a denunciation ceremony presided over by Kai, the city's radio announcer. At the ceremony, Shan doesn't speak (her vocal chords have been severed), and before she's shot, her kidneys are extracted—by Kai's favor-currying husband—for transplant to a high regional official. After Shan's execution, Kwen, a local sadist, and Bashi, a 19-year-old with pedophile leanings, bury Shan, but not before further mutilating the body. While Shan's parents are bereft, others celebrate, including the family of 12-year-old Nini, born deformed after militant Shan kicked Nini's mother in her pregnant belly. Nini dreams of falling in love and—in the novel's intricate overlapping of fates—hooks up with Bashi, providing the one relatively positive moment in this panorama of cruelty and betrayal. Li records these events dispassionately and with such a magisterial sense of direction that the reader can't help being drawn into the novel, like a sleeper trapped in an anxiety dream. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; 60510th edition (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812973348
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812973341
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #497,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on February 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Yiyun Li's first full-length novel, THE VAGRANTS, is another in a steadily growing line of Chinese tales, in both fictional and memoir forms, from the terrifying, chaotic years of China's Cultural Revolution. That dark period, running roughly from 1966 to Mao's death in 1976, is fast becoming the Chinese literary equivalent of the Holocaust, a source for reflection on China's cultural mores, the power of one man and his misshapen ideas, and the brutal potential of conformity and mass behavior. Interestingly, however, no Chinese author of whom I'm aware has attempted to address the longer term impact of those years on the present-day lives of the young Red Guard participants, people now in their sixties and seventies, nor how they might be regarded by the younger generations who followed them. What must one think to look at one's parents or grandparents in China and wonder about their behavior (and fearful acceptance of others' behavior) during that time?

Regardless, with so many predecessor books, one might well wonder whether there were any more stories left to tell set in those specific years. Yiyun Li answers that proposition in THE VAGRANTS brilliantly, with a resounding "yes." Her story, set in the small town of Muddy River, employs what amounts to an ensemble cast. There's aging Teacher Gu, his wife, and their counterrevolutionary daughter Gu Sha. There's old Mr. and Mrs. Hua, itinerant and childless garbage scavengers who've finally settled in Muddy River after dedicating much of their lives to saving and raising abandoned baby girls. There's the congenitally deformed Nini, at twelve years of age the oldest of six girls in her family and a pariah even to her own parents. There's Bashi, a young man but regarded by the townspeople as an undesirable pervert.
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I've been an avid fan of Ha Jin until Yiyun Li came along. For writings on modern China, Yiyun is simply the best. After A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, I was afraid that any follow-up act would disappoint. Instead, The Vagrants shone brilliantly.

For anyone interested in modern China, I would say this is a must-read. It's not a political novel, though it's about a political time. Above all, it's a beautifully written human story about a group of characters of no particular importance in a small town; through them, we saw China and its scars and flickers of hope.

For someone who grew up in China during the time in the book, I marveled at Yiyun's capability to create so many characters, in such a short space, who felt real. I could almost hear the chatters and gossips of my relatives and the uncles and the aunties of my work unit though the pages.

Go get the book. It'd be a tough heartbreaking journey, yet it would be all worth it.
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"The date set for his daughter to die was as arbitrary as her crime." So muses Teacher Gu as he wakens before dawn on the spring equinox, a day "when neither the sun nor its shadow reigned."

Gu Shan's crime -- she has been judged to be a counterrevolutionary for her writings, the nature of which the author never discloses in detail (deliberately) -- is one that she must pay for with her life, her nameless and faceless judges have concluded. Set in the China of 1979 - in the wake of Mao's death, but before Deng Xiaoping opened the door to free enterprise and prosperity - the novel has at its core the events that follow inexorably from Shan's execution. At the time, no one can anticipate what will follow; Shan, her vocal cords severed so she can't scream out at the crowds, is dragged before a stadium full of workers and schoolchildren who have been given a holiday in order to denounce her. Hauled off for execution, her kidneys are removed for transplant into (presumably) an aging Party official, a service for which local bigwigs receive coveted television sets. Then her body is brutalized by the man paid to bury her.

But Shan's fate, however horrific, is just the starting point for a tale of betrayals large and small that take place in the city of Muddy River after she is gone. Her execution brings together a host of unexpected and vividly drawn characters and sets them on a collision course with each other and with the officialdom that rules the smallest detail of their lives (such as whether a dead grandmother can be buried or cremated.) Wu Kai will prove an unlikely catalyst for the events that follow.
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A novel of abject misery and the horrible things that desperate people do to each other when they're pushed. Is it one of the works of Cormac McCarthy? Perhaps Faulkner?

Nope! It's "The Vagrants" by Yiyun Li. Take nearly enough characters to stack a George RR Martin epic, put them in rural China shortly after the Cultural Revolution, sprinkle liberally with poisoned dogs, tattletale neighbors, guilt, repression, and pure asininity and you get The Vagrants.

I'm sure it paints a realistic picture of how horrible things really were (are?) in that part of the world. But I think I'd rather read it in a history book or perhaps a magazine feature than a 300+ page novel. There really is no gleam of hope for these people. Their pathetic circumstances and the authoritarian government turn them on each other repeatedly. There are only a few redeemable characters and they are mostly sidelined.

What's more, the main thread of the plot winds thinly through a myriad of vignettes and tangents. Many of the characters are poorly developed and serve only to confuse the casual reader. Li has a background as an author of short stories and it shows here.

It certainly was interesting to read about this time and place; the presentation was simply lacking. I give it three stars because even though I found it tedious and not to my taste I am glad that it was written, I learned something from it, and I certainly think others should read it.
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