Yiyun Li's 'Kinder Than Solitude' Is More Than a Page-Turning Mystery

By Verongos, Helen T | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 25, 2014 | Go to article overview

Yiyun Li's 'Kinder Than Solitude' Is More Than a Page-Turning Mystery


Verongos, Helen T, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The past is present in every moment of Yiyun Li's poignant novel of three teenagers who grew up in the shadow of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

Boyang and Moran, a boy and a girl, are best friends, traveling the back alleys of Beijing, covering miles every day by bike and collecting favorite places and memories. Boyang has been largely in the care of his grandmother since his high-achieving parents decided to focus on his sister, the genius.

Moran depends on her relationship with Boyang and their familiar surroundings. Her energy goes into preserving the status quo, which is disrupted by the newcomer Ruyu, an impervious, stoical girl. Two elderly Chinese Christian women found her as an infant on their doorstep in Shanghai and brought her up in a sterile environment where the only passion was for Jesus.

To get a clear vision of this triangle we must consider another character who is a ghost for most of the book but a catalyst for almost everything. That is Shaoai, a fiery and furious college revolutionary a few years older than the others, who, as the book opens, has just died after decades in a near-vegetative state.

Her condition stems from a chilling event that cemented the identities of all the characters. That moment comes disguised as a treat Tang, drink of the astronauts, the elixir from America with the Day-Glo color and mouth-puckering taste and the dose of poison that Shaoai tosses down with it.

Though the government tanks never came close to the three teenagers, all three were marked indelibly by Shaoai, and they all felt the elastic snap of China's backlash against its citizens.

Ruyu and Moran both fled to the United States, exporting their pain and scars. …

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