Thursday, May 15, 2014

Review: Kinder than Solitude by Yiyun Li

Published on:- February 25, 2014

Published by:-Random House

Star rating:-

Coping mechanisms. For how long can one cling on to them with a quiet desperation? 

Long after grief subsided, long after the ache dealt by the blow of tragedy dulled, Ruyu, Moran and Boyang continued to let their lives revolve around their coping mechanisms. In place of a youthful lust for life and unbounded optimism they made a gaping emptiness their constant companion, drew strength from their blunt indifference to the world at large, never caring for the interminable flow of time and living from one moment to the next one. 

No expectations from those who touched their lives fleetingly. Relationships established and subsequently shed like second skins just as easily. An impenetrable fog of nothingness separated these three individuals from the world around them. Deeply afraid of tenuous attachment, they chose the secure comfort of solitude.

Orphaned in infancy, Ruyu had her perception of morality blurred by the blind religious fervor with which her grandaunts tried to indoctrinate her and later by Shaoai's everyday small cruelties. Disillusioned with life at a tender age, she could only snub gentle Moran's offer of friendship with acid contempt and wield Boyang's love for her as a weapon to harm others. Her act of transgression (not without its reasons) - perhaps triggered by the vindictive nature of adolescence - brought turbulence into the lives of three souls and destroyed a fourth, the aftershocks of this incident continuing to haunt them decades later across continents.

Ruyu knew she wasn't going to be let off unscathed by fate either but then what could possibly intimidate a misanthrope who treated life like a prison and considered the act of living akin to a sentence meant to be served out in silent despondency?

"She was not the only one trapped by life. She was afraid of meeting another person like her, but more than that she was afraid of never meeting another person like her, who, however briefly, would look into her eyes so that she knew she was not alone in her loneliness."

Yiyun Li is my new favorite author of Chinese origin simply because she manages not to succumb to the lure of sketching a Beijing under an autocratic regime like so many of her peers, choosing instead to narrate a tale of heartbreak and loss which will remain as affecting even if one strips her characters of their ethnicity and shifts the backdrop of events to any other place and time. It is the flawed humanity of the ensemble characters, none of whom are completely beyond reproach, and their self-inflicted emotional isolation which establishes Li's ability to go beyond the limits of spick and span pigeonholing. The devastating aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the agonizing chokehold of the Communist administration over its citizens are simply hinted at and never spelled out for the sake of inducing any cheap sentimentality. And what elevates her craft further in my eyes is the languid beauty of her prose and her accurate portrayal of the melancholia and ennui entailing the quandary of life. 

"They were not her stories. They were not about her time, or her people, but what she had once found in these stories-escape-would eventually become her wisdom. Perhaps if she kept these tales going he would one day forgive her stubbornness in choosing solitude, because he, kinder than solitude, was always here for her until death do them apart."

The pleasure of familiarizing myself with an author I know I can unhesitatingly seek out in the future never becomes stale.


**I received an arc from Random House through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review**

Also posted on Goodreads and Amazon.

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