Three young friends are haunted by the poisoning of a fourth. Was it attempted murder, suicide, accident? A compelling, unsettling, rich examination of the abiding question: Can we ever know one another? — Louise Jones
A profound mystery is at the heart of this magnificent new novel by Yiyun Li, “one of America’s best young novelists” (Newsweek) and the celebrated author of The Vagrants, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Moving back and forth in time, between America today and China in the 1990s, Kinder Than Solitude is the story of three people whose lives are changed by a murder one of them may have committed. As one of the three observes, “Even the most innocent person, when cornered, is capable of a heartless crime.”
When Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang were young, they were involved in a mysterious incident in which a friend of theirs was poisoned. Grown up, the three friends are separated by distance and personal estrangement. Moran and Ruyu live in the United States, Boyang in China; all three are haunted by what really happened in their youth, and by doubt about themselves. In California, Ruyu helps a local woman care for her family and home, avoiding entanglements, as she has done all her life. In Wisconsin, Moran visits her ex-husband, whose kindness once overcame her flight into solitude. In Beijing, Boyang struggles to deal with an inability to love, and with the outcome of what happened among the three friends twenty years before.
Brilliantly written, a breathtaking page-turner, Kinder Than Solitude resonates with provocative observations about human nature and life. In mesmerizing prose, and with profound insight, Yiyun Li unfolds this remarkable story, even as she explores the impact of personality and the past on the shape of a person’s present and future.
Praise for Kinder Than Solitude
“This is an exceptional novel, and Yiyun Li has grown into one of our major novelists.”—Salman Rushdie
“Yiyun Li infuses the traditional form with a fresh, rigorous beauty and a sense of permanence and increasing value.”—Mona Simpson, author of My Hollywood
“[A] sleek, powerful novel about the weight of memory, the brunt of loss and the myriad ways the past can crimp the soul . . . Li gives us gifts of gorgeous prose. . . . Rarely are ordinary humans given such eloquent witness.”—The Washington Post “What makes [Kinder Than Solitude] so vivid is its humanity. . . . It is an inquiry into how the past scars us, shaping present and future, and some deeds, once committed, can never be undone.”—Los Angeles Times “[Li’s] true gift . . . is old-fashioned storytelling [and] a sense that a life, a whole life, can be captured on pages.”—The Boston Globe “A stunning, dark, and beautiful book . . . Yiyun Li writes with characteristic genius.”—Paul Harding, author of Tinkers and Enon
About the Author
Yiyun Li is the author of six works of fiction—Must I Go, Where Reasons End, Kinder Than Solitude, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, The Vagrants, and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl—and the memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. She is the recipient of many awards, including a PEN/Hemingway Award, a PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, and a Windham-Campbell Prize, and was featured in The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 fiction issue. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories, among other publications. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
“The surface of Yiyun Li’s prose is deceptively still, but just beneath the surface are the sadness, pain, and tragedy of three lives, each one driven into a kind of damaged solitude by the memory of the past. Li’s characters are portrayed with a harsh beauty, and one’s emotions become deeply engaged with their fates, and with 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, author of Midnight’s Children
“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
“[A] sleek, powerful novel about the weight of memory, the brunt of loss and the myriad ways the past can crimp the soul . . . Li gives us gifts of gorgeous prose. . . . Rarely are ordinary humans given such eloquent witness.”—The Washington Post
“What makes [Kinder Than Solitude] so vivid is its humanity. . . . It is an inquiry into how the past scars us, shaping present and future, and some deeds, once committed, can never be undone.”—Los Angeles Times
“Quietly heartbreaking . . . [Li’s] true gift—learned by close study of Ivan Turgenev and William Trevor—is old-fashioned storytelling [and] a sense that a life, a whole life, can be captured on pages.”—The Boston Globe
“Li turns an intricately plotted mystery into something more profound, one that queries the meaning of crime and punishment in the moral murk of contemporary China.”—The New Yorker
“There’s something about the poise, the tidiness, the seemingly effortless calm of Yiyun Li’s writing that makes it easy to see her as an author who, like Jhumpa Lahiri, employs a Chekovian neutrality. . . . But look again. . . . There’s a withering, vibrating sarcasm at work in the juxtaposition of national and personal tragedies.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Li is something of a connoisseur of loneliness and despondency—in this she is reminiscent of the . . . bard of solitude, William Trevor—and her book is rich in such elegant, fine-grained expressions of despair.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Li’s chilly, philosophical storytelling offers layers of unsettling yet impressive insight into family legacies and cultural dynamics.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Li’s fourth work of fiction gives readers the trappings of a murder mystery with none of the dull formula. Instead, she burrows deeply into the minds of her characters. Her prose, by turns sumptuous and austere, is utterly precise, whether describing a crematorium, a roasted yam, or midwestern snowfall. A brilliant, sorrowful, and unpredictable novel.”—Booklist