The Vagrants by Yiyun Li (Audiobook read by Keith Brockett)

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Summary: This book centers around the killing of Gu Shan, previously a devout follower of Chairman Mao, who denounces communism and is killed for her disloyalty. I say centers around as Gu Shan as she is a character who is discussed in the book but seen only briefly. This novel draws together a number of other members of Muddy River whose lives are in some way touched by her killing; her parents, the woman who posts the announcement of her murder, a boy fascinated by her body among others.

This novel has a far reaching scope giving us a glimpse into the lives of numerous members of the community all in different stages of life, from different classes and very different family dynamics.

Review: I listened to this on audiobook driving to and from work, so I’m not sure if my initial difficulty to get to grips with the many characters is a fault of the book or the fact that I was often listening early in the morning or after a long day, tackling traffic and my mind interrupting with the stresses of work and moving house.

However, once I had all the characters in my head I really enjoyed seeing all the many aspects of the lives of the characters, so of whom know and interact with each other and some who never come into contact.

For me the character of Nini had the most force, the eldest child of a family of 6 girls whose parents keep producing in the hope having a much sought after son, not only is she not wanted because of her gender but also because of her disability. Watching her day-to-day struggles and the treatment she faced was harrowing and then she met Bashi, an elder, very lonely but strange boy I wanted to reach in and pull her out of the novel. Other characters didn’t have as great a grip on me, but this is typical in a novel of such breadth.

Looking back I realised how few days this novel actually covers, it was great to see how one significant act can change the lives of many in such a short space of time.

As an audiobook the narrator, Keith Brockett managed to handle all the various characters and their voices well, but I think if I’d have read up on this book, and not just downloaded it from my library app because I recognised the title, I would have chosen to read this in physical format because of the concentration needed. I’ve seen many people liken this to Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, which I also listened to on audiobook but I would say this was much more accomplished and succinct.

“She wonders if this is what people call falling in love, the desire to be with someone for every minute of the rest of her life so strong that sometimes she is frightened of herself.” 

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