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The Vagrants: A Novel Paperback – Deckle Edge, February 16, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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What I Liked
This book made a habit of sneaking up on me. Read more
One can read about China’s one-child per couple policy in the newspaper or in political magazines. Or read history about the Tiananmen Square protests or the Cultural Revolution. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Paul McGrath
Insipid, dark, pointless--this describes most of the book. Having friends who have suffered through the Great Cultural Revolution, I am not about to issue halos to the micro- or... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Jesuslovesyou
Set in 1979, at the close of the Cultural Revolution and a few years after the death of Mao, “The Vagrants” explores a time when one could turn one’s back on injustice, speak out... Read morePublished 6 months ago by M. Feldman
A Master of Storytelling. The writer makes you live the lack of freedom and other civil and basic human rights in Communist China. A Must read.Published 11 months ago by Victor H Fisher
I read this book much later than the other reviewers, and only because I bought this book as "discarded" from the local library. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Lupus
Insightful window into post-revolutionary China. Artfully written. Engaging and somewhat strange cast of characters. The book has a somewhat surreal feel.Published 15 months ago by Wayne Triner
Characters and plot very interesting. We read it in our book club and everyone really liked it. Would definitely recommend.Published 18 months ago by Barry L. Steely
Muddy River is a small town with regular everyday folks until a series of events lead to neighbors turning against each other, families ripped apart, and leaders being turned... Read morePublished 19 months ago by Debrashemesh