YIYUN LI is the author of four works of fiction—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. A native of Beijing and a graduate from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is the recipient of many awards, including a PEN/Hemingway Award and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the “20 Under 40” fiction writers to watch. 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.

Snippet from the book:

When young, I knew not the taste of sorrow But loved to climb the storied towers
I loved to climb the storeyed towers to
compose a new poem, faking sorrow;
Now I have known the taste of sorrow and want to talk about it, but I refrain I want to talk about it, And say merely: a chilly day,
what fine autumn!

My thoughts :

This is neither a linear novel nor a nonlinear one. This novel is about the anguish and emotional distress of a mother who lost her sixteen-year-old son untimely. A mother’s quest for overcoming the grief and loss of her son.

Nikolai was sixteen years old when he had committed Suicide. No reason for suicide was mentioned in the novel. He was good at Baking, Knitting, and Painting. When he was a child, he was intelligent enough to ask how Santa can visit all the Children at a time. Before he attained sixteen years he had completed Hugo’s Les Miserables and Dickens’s Great expectations and so on. He was good at poetry too.

After his death, the mother felt his presence in her mind and he was mind reading her questions and answering her. She was a writer and her son was challenging her with his outstanding vocabulary. They were discussing a lot of things right from his childhood not to have a conscience. When they were arguing something they end up abruptly. Maybe the mother had not spent much of her quality time with her son when he was alive and she wanted to compensate the lost time with a continuous discussion after his death.

There were questions from the son like, ‘when you knew the eventuality of death why you gave birth to children?’
What if life must be lived by Cliches? Where can we live but for days? Are all the parent’s expert equivocators? Does everyone have to have delusion to live? Questions and questions for which nobody can answer or find a solution in a lifetime!

Will grief go when you make the dead to relive and converse with them? When the past cannot be altered what is in store for us? Life doesn’t have the rewinding facility to finetune things as and when required isn’t it?

Yiyun Li is going in-depth in this novel where everything has no meaning or a different meaning which we cannot perceive. Her command over language is evidently seen when she aligns and rearranges the words. She is really bold enough to write a novel which does not have a story but sixteen or something dialogues of the dead son with his loving mother. It is obvious that the mother is unnamed and the sibling of the dead son is called with an initial. The worst nightmare for any parent is to lose the child when they are alive. Yiyun Li portrays the nightmare as intellectual discussions. Time is a healer but not for all the wounds.

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