By: Seth Reid
Friend of WordTheatre, teacher, and all-around brilliant author, Yiyun Li has released a new novel, and we couldn’t be more excited. Li’s work has drawn heaps of praise since her debut collection of short stories, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award in 2005. And Li has shown no sign of slowing down in the past decade, following her initial collection with a debut novel, a second collection of stories, and now her newest, and possibly best, novel, Kinder Than Solitude, which has made the longlist for the Pen Open Book Award.
The novel, which follows three main characters, decorates a vast setting that begins in China but spreads to places as distinctly dissimilar as California and Wisconsin, USA. Although the scope of this work may seem ambitious, Li maintains control and does not allow immense geographic space to overwhelm the delicate, human element at the center of the story. This fidelity to character development comes across in the praise that Kinder Than Solitude has been receiving: Salman Rushdie says of Li’s novel, “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.”
And that is another compelling aspect of Li’s new piece: crime. The three main characters of the novel, Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang, are childhood friends who are involved in an “accident” that results in the death of a young girl. Though the friends are bound by what they experience, the fallout from the death pushes them apart, physically and emotionally. The death at the center of this novel, and at the center of the conflict within the lives of the three friends, draws the story forward with the patient intensity of a murder mystery, never eager to yield the full details of the tragic event.
At WordTheatre, we have experienced firsthand the prose that The Boston Globe calls “as polished as stones that have lain at the bottom of a lake for decades. [It slips] pleasingly through your mind as you turn the pages.” But we still can’t seem to get enough. Her short stories have yielded some of WordTheatre’s most stunning readings, and while her new novel will, without a doubt, be another unique and satisfying read, we are just as excited to see Li’s story “A Sheltered Woman” performed at our upcoming event. “A Sheltered Woman” has been shortlisted for The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, the richest prize in the world for a single story, and it will be performed by brilliant actress, Jing Lusi (Holby City, Jack Falls) at WordTheatre’s event from April 22-24 at the Gallery at Foyle’s Bookstore in London. Alongside Li’s story, the other shortlisted authors will have their work performed by talented actors including Gary Dourdan, Lesly Nichol, and Eleanor Bron.
For more information about this event and about Yiyun Li’s sterling literary history, visit our Upcoming Events.