Yiyun Li emigrated from Beijing to study medicine in the US, but instead graduated from the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Her memorable debut collection of stories, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, was followed by an award-winning novel, The Vagrants.
In this second collection, she follows characters, young and old, as they try to re-orient themselves in a post-revolutionary world. Attuned to every nuance of sadness, Li writes delicately about death, brutality and leave-taking.
In "Prison" a couple try to get over their grief for a dead daughter by hiring a surrogate mother, while in the title story an older couple try to decide whether a union will "make one another less sad". Modern China is portrayed as a series of "dormant" towns steeped in "big tragedies and small losses".