Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: "The Vagrants" by Yiyun Li

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li is not a book that left a big impact on me, and it is very hard to dredge up details over a week after reading it. But thinking about it now, as I have said before many times, I don’t think that is a sign of a bad book. It just failed to resonate with me as anything astounding or revelatory. When you read as much as I do, and broaden your reading tastes with every book you read, you are bound to come across books that slide out of your memory bank and leave only the faintest impressions. This is one. It is a cool premise, albeit one that is more derivative than original: a political radical in a small Chinese village in the late 70’s is being executed for her crimes against the state. This sentence has far reaching implications with people in this town. The woman’s parents, who never understood her daughter, are confused about their guilt and grief. A woman married to a wealthy man is inspired by her brave actions. A borderline sociopathic young man is intrigued by the spectacle, as well as his equally messed up love interest, and the innocent boy who follows him around. It succeeds in showing the ways in which an apathetic and cruel society affects every kind of person who lives under its rule, whether you are young or old, or rich or poor. But that has been done to death, and it doesn’t break new ground. The characters are okay, but they are just that: okay. I would love a whole book on the sociopath, but Li is not that kind of writer. If she was this book would be a lot more memorable, and I would give it a hearty recommendation instead of a half-hearted one.
Rating: 4/5

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