Review: Kinder Than Solitude, Yiyun Li

February 27, 2014 Reviews 0 ★★½

Review: Kinder Than Solitude, Yiyun LiKinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li
Published by Random House on 25 February 2014
Genres: Adult Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon • Amazon UK • Book Depository

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 “accident” 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, and avoids 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 ago.

Brilliantly written, a breathtaking page-turner, Kinder Than Solituderesonates 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.


“Though her life lacked the poignancy of great happiness and acute pain, she believed she had found, in their places, the blessing of solitude.”

The premise of this story sounded so promising. A murder. A mystery. A secret. All ingredients for a intriguing and exciting read, yet after reading it I felt underwhelmed and just plain depressed.

The story follows three characters who are connected by a suspected murder that one of them may have committed when they were teenagers. Their past actions have transformed them into lonely and empty adults who are all trying to come to grips with failed relationships and their emotional distance from others.

I can’t say I liked any of the characters much, but had a special aversion to Ruyu. Yes, she had a ‘unique’ upbringing, but that cannot explain away her selfishness and sense of entitlement. Moran was more likeable, though her inaction and complacency made me want to shake her. Boyang was a non-entity for me. Other then chasing younger woman, I felt he was flat and didn’t add much to the story.

While the action is minimal, you have to admire Li’s beautiful and poetic prose. You get a real sense of the sorrow and despair that radiates from each of the characters. This is a heavy-thank-your-lucky-stars-you-have-people-in-your-life kind of story. They are so isolated from the rest of humanity that the only solace they could ever find is in each other.

There are some really beautiful moments and some excellent writing in this book, but the plot disappointed.

two-half-stars – Solitude is not kind

Natasha lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband and son. She is a self confessed bibliophile who enjoys literature and adult fiction. She also loves travelling and aims to visit 40 countries by the time she is 40 (current count 36).

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