The cover of Yiyun Li’s Kinder than solitude notes the multiple awards she’s won, and there’s a quote by Salman Rushdie praising the novel (I assume it’s this one). But judged by the contents, this book didn’t live up to its hype.
The story follows four individuals, who shared a courtyard as children (although one is actually older than the others – twenty-two when they’re in early high school). A life-changing incident in their childhood reverberates throughout their lives, which the narrative touches on at various points, alternating between their pasts and presents.
The underlying story is an interesting one – there are some interesting characters, and enough narrative material to build a story out of. But there are significant chunks of the book that are simply dreary, tedious recountings of pedestrian lives, that feel much like a shopping list read by an automated telephone system.
I agreed with this review in The Guardian that significant editorial cuts could have helped this be a much tauter novel, and thought this on in The Washington Post was far too generous. Yiyun Li is apparently a brilliant writer, and I’d be willing to try some more of her writing; but if you haven’t started, I wouldn’t make this your first one.