Literature Program

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.


A Public Space Magazine, Talking Leaves…Books, & Hallwalls present

Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li

Author of the New Novel Kinder Than Solitude

(Random House, 2014)

Photo of Yiyun Li by Roger Turesson.
Yiyun Li, winner of the PEN/Hemingway, MacArthur "Genius," and many other awards, masterfully moves a story of three childhood friends back and forth in time between America and China, in her breathtaking new novel, Kinder Than Solitude (Random House hardcover, on sale February 25, 2014).

Kinder Than Solitude is both a gripping novel of suspense and a penetrating study of personal corruption and moral ambivalence. In mesmerizing prose, Yiyun Li tells the unforgettable story of three friends whose lives are changed by a murder one of them may have committed.

When Boyang, Ruyu, and Moran were young, they would share two bicycles among the three of them and whistle John Denver's "Country Roads" while exploring Beijing. Then they are involved in a mysterious accident in which their friend and neighbor is poisoned, and their friendships splinter. Nothing will ever be the same.

Now grown up and estranged, all three are living anonymous lives as they ruminate on the "accident," trying to come to terms with their actions and self doubt. Moran and Ruyu live in the U.S., Boyang is a successful businessman in China, yet all three are haunted by what really happened when they were young.

In California, Ruyu works part time in a chocolate shop and as a housekeeper, avoiding emotional entanglements as she has done all of her life. In Massachusetts, Moran works in a lab maintaining the persona of the anonymous immigrant, but a visit to her ex-husband may jolt her out of her self-exile. In Beijing, Boyang struggles to deal with an inability to love and with the outcome of what happened among the three friends, 21 years before. Balancing strength and tenderness, Yiyun Li poignantly tackles the immigrant experience in America and paints a heartbreaking picture of innocence lost—where friendship blurs with love, and unfinished conversations and misunderstandings result in tragedy. Brilliantly written, Kinder Than Solitude resonates with provocative observations about human nature and life. With profound philosophical insight, Yiyun Li unfolds a remarkable story that explores the impact of personality and the past to shape a person's present and future.

Praise for PEN/Hemingway winner Yiyun Li

"Li is extraordinary…a storyteller of the first order." — Junot Diaz

"Poetic and brave, a great charge of a novel." — Colum McCann

"Extraordinary…A spellbinding vision of the power of the human spirit." — Chicago Tribune

"One of America's best young novelists." — Newsweek

"Yiyun Li is a marvel." — NPR

Praise for Yiyun Li's Kinder Than Solitude

"The surface of Yiyun Li's prose is deceptively still, but just beneath the surface is the sadness, pain and tragedy of three lives, each one driven into a kind of damaged solitude by the memory of the past. Her characters are portrayed with a harsh beauty, and one's emotions become deeply engaged with their fates, and by the mystery of a poisoned woman, a crime which has shaped - perhaps deformed - them all. This is an exceptional novel and Yiyun Li has grown into one of our major novelists." - Salman Rushdie

"Li is a high modernist. She infuses the traditional form with a fresh rigorous beauty. Her novel is as clean and sharp and smart as a great piece of midcentury furniture, with that sense of permanence and increasing value." — Mona Simpson, author of My Hollywood

"I can't remember the last time I read a novel at once so relentless and elegant, so precise and ranging. The lives in Kinder Than Solitude are forever warped by a childhood tragedy, but Li won't let these tortured souls off the hook. This novel is fierce as a search light, blazing into every dark corner of its characters' psyches, and ours. I couldn't look away." — Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

"Yiyun Li works all sorts of terrific alchemy, surprises of character and reversals of received wisdom that show us a world we thought was lonely and hopeless is in no way beyond consolation. These people in Kinder Than Solitude, all of them spiritual, political, and romantic orphans, lead lives so oppressed and constrained by their choices that your heart will surely break for them. Yet these same lives are rendered with such hard, gorgeous sympathy that all their brokenness and constraint are invested with a profoundly human majesty. By the end of this beautiful, thrilling novel, when their crime-inflected fates have played out, you'll want to stand up, sobbing, to cheer for them." — Chris Adrian, author of The Great Night

"Kinder Than Solitude is a stunning, dark, and beautiful book. Yiyun Li writes with characteristic genius and hard, clear-eyed insight about characters ravaged by family and culture, who attempt to sterilize, to quarantine, even to abandon their own hearts in order to immunize themselves against the pains of loneliness and hope. Both their successes and failures at doing so are tragic and true and soul-wrenching. By the end of the book, the reader's own heart feels exposed, fragile, and all the more precious for having taken part in Li's mysterious, artful novel." — Paul Harding, author of Tinkers and Enon