Fourth Estate £7.99
The Vagrants, By Yiyun Li
Sunday 08 November 2009
Yiyun Li takes on the omniscient voice of a 19th-century realist novelist for this bleak story set in a provincial town in China, 1979. A people who had endured the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution might have expected a thaw after the death of Mao – but it was a long time coming.
A young woman, Gu Shan, has been sentenced to death for anti-communist beliefs: before her show execution, her vocal cords are cut to prevent her shouting defiant slogans; and her kidneys are removed while she's still alive to donate to a high-ranking party official.
With great psychological acuity, Li records the lives of the people affected by the event – Gu Shan's anguished parents; the crippled girl Nini, who is treated like a slave by her family; the half-witted idler Bashi, who's scorned by everyone; the beautiful newsreader Kai, who has secret counter-revolutionary ideas.
In a world of oppression, cruelty trickles down from the top, resulting in "a place of cold-heartedness and animosity [where] the small fire of friendship could only do so much to keep one warm and hopeful". As grim, and as compassionate, as Zola.
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
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