Après-Mao

Michael Hofmann

  • BuyDear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
    Hamish Hamilton, 208 pp, £14.99, February, ISBN 978 0 241 28395 0

There are a few facts and dates. I would like to do without them, or fiddle with them, in the sense that the person they govern is a great writer, and would have been a great writer without them, and so mocks, like Homer of the seven birthplaces, the confining clutch of circumstance, but I can’t. So, take them as they are. Yiyun Li was born in 1973 in Beijing. In 1996, she left for the US. She studied medicine at the University of Iowa, took her Master’s in immunology, worked as a research scientist, then slipped or skipped sideways and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she took her MFA. She has published two books of short stories, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2005) and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl (2010), and two novels, The Vagrants (2009), which seems to me one of the first masterpieces of our stumbling century, and Kinder than Solitude (2014), and now a book of essays, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. The flowery title, by the way, is not, as one might have supposed, Li’s, but is quoted from Katherine Mansfield’s notebooks.

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