The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
A Novel

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BONUS: This edition contains a The Vagrants discussion guide.

In luminous prose, award-winning author Yiyun Li weaves together the lives of unforgettable characters who are forced to make moral choices, and choices for survival, in China in the late 1970s.  

As morning dawns on the provincial city of Muddy River, a spirited young woman, Gu Shan, once a devoted follower of Chairman Mao, has renounced her faith in Communism. Now a political prisoner, she is to be executed for her dissent. While Gu Shan’s distraught mother makes bold decisions, her father begins to retreat into memories. Neither of them imagines that their daughter’s death will have profound and far-reaching effects, in Muddy River and beyond. Among the characters affected are Kai, a beautiful radio announcer who is married to a man from a powerful family; Tong, a lonely seven-year-old boy; and Nini, a hungry young girl. Beijing is being rocked by the Democratic Wall Movement, an anti-Communist groundswell designed to move the country toward a more enlightened and open society, but the government backlash will be severe.

In this spellbinding novel, the brilliant Yiyun Li gives us a powerful and beautiful portrait of human courage and despair in dramatic times.

About Yiyun Li

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Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and attended Peking University. She came to the United States in 1996 to study medicine and started writing two years later. After receiving a master's degree in immunology from the University of Iowa, she attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she received an MFA. Li is a recipient of The Paris Review's Plimpton Prize for new writers. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Glimmer Train, and Prospect. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their two sons.From the Hardcover edition.
Published February 3, 2009 by Random House. 352 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction, History. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Vagrants

The New York Times

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There is a magnetic small-town universality to Yiyun Li's first novel, set in a provincial city in Communist China.

Jan 29 2009 | Read Full Review of The Vagrants: A Novel

The New York Times

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Centered on the aftermath of a young woman’s execution in a desolate part of China in 1979, Yiyun Li’s grieving and unremitting first novel examines the costs and consequences of a society gone mad.

Mar 08 2009 | Read Full Review of The Vagrants: A Novel


It is a brilliantly written novel that reveals the brutality and oppression of the Chinese government to Western readers.

Nov 01 2009 | Read Full Review of The Vagrants: A Novel

Open Letters Monthly

The keynote of Li’s condemnation of the Chinese government appears on the very first page of The Vagrants when Teacher Gu laments that “The date set for his daughter to die was as arbitrary as her crime, determined by the court, of being an unrepentant counterrevolutionary.” Li is invoking Kafkae...

| Read Full Review of The Vagrants: A Novel

Bookin With Sunny.

The lives of Mrs. Gu, Kai, Nini, Bashi and the Huas’ move beyond the death of a coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tionary.

Jan 23 2009 | Read Full Review of The Vagrants: A Novel

Daily Camera

As the story, which cycles around the 1979 execution of counterrevolutionary Shan Gu, unfolds, parents turn against children, husbands turn against wives, and a son turns against his father.

Mar 12 2009 | Read Full Review of The Vagrants: A Novel

In this sometimes brutal novel by MacArthur "genius" Li, the execution

Apr 01 2013 | Read Full Review of The Vagrants: A Novel

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