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Crossing a line

Kinder than Solitude

Title: Kinder than Solitude
By: Yiyun Li

This is a complex, thought-provoking novel concerned with understanding four young people as they mature. At age 15, Ruyu, an orphan child from a provincial town, is handed off by her religious great aunts to distant relatives in Beijing, where she will attend high school. She is to share a room with the daughter of the house, Shaoai, who at 22 is much more sophisticated, opinionated, and bossy.

Sharing a bed with Shaoai on the first night, Ruyu converses with God: "Please, she said, sensing she was on Shaoai’s mind, please mask me with your love so they can’t feel my existence." Throughout her life, Ruyu fervently seeks the privacy of being unseen.

Two neighbor children a year older become friendly with Ruyu in spite of her reticence: Boyang, who is being raised by his grandparents, and Moran, who is in love with Boyang and feels tenderness for the orphan girl. Moran has the most ordinary family life of the four of them, but this is not enough to protect her.

When something terrible happens to Shaoai, the bonds of friendship are fractured, and all four lives are altered forever. Li ever so slowly unravels the mystery of this event. The strong contrasts between her characters remind us of the variety of ways we can choose to live our life in this world. Concomitantly, the way we view ourselves and others depends on our individual personalities. I see these as motifs of this unusual and profound literary investigation.

Later in her life, Moran ponders: "Perhaps there is a line in everyone’s life that, once crossed, imparts a certain truth that one has not been able to see before, transforming solitude from a choice into the only possible state of existence."

What could be kinder than solitude?

View similarly tagged posts: fiction

Posted on Nov. 19, 2014 at 1:16 a.m.

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