The book ‘The Vagrants’ by YiYun Li was published this year and I bought it a few months ago, but only recently I finally got it off my bookshelf and read it (a little confession: I am a book addict, I have quite a few unread books on my shelf, but as soon as something interesting comes out I have to rush out and buy it or order it on the Amazon; then the lovely books have to wait their turn).
The author’s style of writing is unlike anyone I have ever read, it is beautifully evocative in a simple way, with no pretentiously composed sentences. The book draws you in from the beginning but because it is dramatic and thought provoking it takes you a while to read it.
The main event is the execution of Gu Shan who went from being a loyal communist to a counter-revolutionary. Her father, a teacher and an intellectual, finds it hard to accept the fact that his daughter turned into a rebel and her mother is devastated by the loss of her only child. The citizens of Muddy River, a town where the events take place, is very small but the event resonates and leads to unexpected consequences for Tong, a young boy, an orphan Bashi who lives with his old grandmother, a crippled girl named Nini, beautiful Kai, a wife on an important man, and Mr and Mrs Hua who are the poor cleaners.
This book made me very sad and at times I left it on my bedside table for a few days before it drew me back. I have never been to China and as yet don’t have any Chinese friends but the story of this huge country is fascinating and the author makes you feel like you are part of the events that are unfolding before your eyes. The love of people, the loss of faith, the sorrows of being a person with special needs can apply to any person, of any nationality, but the sad truth is that the book is based on the true events and you get to educate yourself about the life of people during the Communist regime when it was impossible to distinguish yourself or to try to appear different from the crowd. A highly recommendable read.