The Vagrants: A Novel
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Shortlisted for the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
In luminous prose, award-winning author Yiyun Li weaves together the lives of unforgettable characters who are forced to make moral choices, and choices for survival, in China in the late 1970s.
As morning dawns on the provincial city of Muddy River, a spirited young woman, Gu Shan, once a devoted follower of Chairman Mao, has renounced her faith in Communism. Now a political prisoner, she is to be executed for her dissent. While Gu Shan’s distraught mother makes bold decisions, her father begins to retreat into memories. Neither of them imagines that their daughter’s death will have profound and far-reaching effects, in Muddy River and beyond. Among the characters affected are Kai, a beautiful radio announcer who is married to a man from a powerful family; Tong, a lonely seven-year-old boy; and Nini, a hungry young girl. Beijing is being rocked by the Democratic Wall Movement, an anti-Communist groundswell designed to move the country toward a more enlightened and open society, but the government backlash will be severe.
In this spellbinding novel, the brilliant Yiyun Li gives us a powerful and beautiful portrait of human courage and despair in dramatic times.
said, “Teacher Gu, your wife …” “Don’t feel you have to defend her in any way. I know what she did.” “She’s probably an accomplice at most,” Gousheng said. “She’s older and they probably won’t be too harsh on her.” Teacher Gu ignored Gousheng’s effort to comfort him. He drank now with a speed that matched Gousheng’s. “Let me tell you, the worst thing that ever happened in this new China—not that I’m against the new China in any way, but to think of all these women who get to do what they want
ruin your future and Ming-Ming’s.” Kai shook her head slowly. “Do you want me to write a draft for you? You need only to sign.” Kai had long ago stopped loving the man in front of her; perhaps she had never loved him. But she felt an urge to hug him as a mother would, to comfort a child who had tried hard to act like a brave man. Han broke down again in her arms, and she let him bury his face in her hair, feeling the dampness on her collar. Nobody would love her as much as he did, she
walking side by side with the boy. “Now you’re following me,” Tong said. “It just so happened that I changed my mind and decided to go in that direction too,” Bashi said, and winked. Tong flushed with anger. What a shameless grown-up; even a five-year-old would know more of the rules of the world. “I don’t want to walk with you,” Tong said. “Stop following me.” “I want to walk with you,” said Bashi, affecting a child’s voice. “There’s no law that says I can’t walk with you.” “But you don’t
for the nation’s well-being. Her voice, soft and clear, sounded reassuring; after all, was she not the official news announcer? Some people, once they had talked to Kai, changed their minds and signed the petition. “Hey, are you deaf?” Bashi said to Tong. “I’m asking you a question.” “What did you say?” “How long is the line now? I can’t even lift my head because of you.” “Still very long.” “How many people do you see?” Tong tried to count. “Sixty, maybe eighty. It’s hard to count. They’re
The man behind the table, a new teacher at Tong’s school— although he did not recognize Tong—replied that it was not for browsing. “But we’re also here to sign, aren’t we, little brother?” Bashi said to Tong. “Didn’t your parents say you represent them here? By the way,” he said to the man, “the boy is a student of yours.” The man turned to Tong. “Do you go to Red Star?” Tong nodded. “And didn’t you just beg me to let you come and sign the petition?” Bashi said, and turned to the man. “He’s a