Kinder Than Solitude
The Washington Post
Li's novel skillfully ravels each skein of the story, cutting back and forth in time as well as between East and West, building tension as it goes. The clean, chiseled beauty of her prose draws us deeper and deeper into these tormented characters, revealing the full extent of who they are and what has gone on between them. [...] Rarely are ordinary humans given such eloquent witness.
The New York Times
-- profile by Larry Rohter
The New York Times
There's something about the poise, the tidiness, the seemingly effortless calm of Yiyun Li's writing that makes it easy to see her as an author who, like Jhumpa Lahiri, employs a Chekhovian neutrality to give the complicated, messy, ostensibly "colorful" lives of her characters a kind of unthreatening watercolor ambience.
The New Yorker
Li turns an intricately plotted mystery into something more profound, one that queries the meaning of crime and punishment in the moral murk of contemporary China.
As a writer, you shouldn't believe what your characters say about themselves. When they avoid being looked at, they avoid being studied, you need to push them and push them and until they admit, or relinquish, or confess.
The Boston Globe
Her true gift - learned by close study of Ivan Turgenev and William Trevor - is old-fashioned storytelling. [...] The art in "Kinder than Solitude" lies in how Li shows us how her characters arrives at this point of view. She sets to this task with an unusual amount of patience, and a minimum of creative enhancements to the English language. Her sentences are as polished as stones that have lain at the bottom of a lake for decades. They slip pleasingly through your mind as you turn the pages.
Chicago Tribune [Printers Row]
"Kinder Than Solitude" is neither an easy read nor, frankly, an enjoyable one, yet it brims with urgency and insight. More than a novel, it's a subtly sketched allegory for a changing China as well as a cautionary tale to speak out against injustice in a world where people go to great lengths not to interfere.
Los Angeles Times
"Kinder Than Solitude" is not tragic, despite the tragedy at its center; it is instead a novel of gradations, in which easy expectations of condemnation or forgiveness fall to pieces before the necessity of coming to terms. That this is true for every one of us is what gives the book its resonance, with its attention to what happens after innocence burns off. We are all children once, and we all participate in things, see things, that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.
While some read for insights into the human condition, others gravitate to page-turning mysteries. "Kinder than Solitude" speaks to both and makes one wonder whether the gulf between them is narrower than one might imagine.
The Wall Street Journal
Ms. Li is something of a connoisseur of loneliness and despondency - in this she is reminiscent of the late bard of solitude, William Trevor - and her book is rich in such elegant, fine-grained expressions of despair.
[Other] humans, uncomfortable with facades of such self-sufficiency in those near them, are forever reaching out to break through the walls Li's characters have tried to erect around themselves. And even those who have bottled up human feeling and desire, the book seems to say, also cannot help but yearn to break out of the gates within which they have locked themselves away from engagement and love.
San Francisco Chronicle
Li's philosophically inflected writing lucidly illustrates that cowardice, poisonous resentment, the callousness of fate and the ruthlessness of youth are sadly not bound to any time or place.
Despite its status as a sort of whodunit, Kinder Than Solitude is often most interesting for the things it is not: not a political novel, notwithstanding the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square massacre; not a novel that takes up the tropes of immigrant fiction, despite being fiction about immigrants. But its force comes from the mythic power of the childhood story, the almost-book-within-the-book, as the “vacuum” force of Ruyu destabilizes life in the quadrangle with the inevitability of the serpent in the garden.
Li has the physical and emotional distance to negotiate between two very distinct cultures... So much is left unspoken in Li's lyrical prose, leaving readers to tread through a thick web of introspection. [H]aunting beyond its final words.
[Li's] new novel is penetrating and emotionally tasking, but there's something compulsive about it—something that hooks a nerve and tugs again and again.
Li uses a plain-spoken style to reveal layers upon layers of psychological drama. Few writers are better at showing just how much chaos lies beneath our efforts to project an outer calm.
Having spent so much time moving from place to place, Li is adamant about the ways in which where we come from and where we've been affect us, much like her characters, for life.
The Threepenny Review
This is novelty carried on at the highest level, where experiences most of us have had in some form or other have been re-examined and re-described in ways that make them new.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Li is too smart to suggest an overly neat exit from this nightmare of history; "Solitude" never lets us forget that Tiananmen happened. But while its characters occasionally get lost in the past's shadows, "Solitude" resolutely feels its way forward, groping toward a kinder and less lonely future.
San Jose Mercury News
Beautifully written, "Kinder Than Solitude" is a moving meditation on "the profound and perplexing loneliness in which every human heart dwells."
Kirkus Review (starred review)
Li's chilly, philosophical storytelling offers layers of unsettling yet impressive insight into family legacies and cultural dynamics.
Li, the recipient of a 2010 MacArthur "genius" fellowship, offers a rarer pleasure: plentiful astute human characterization. Kinder Than Solitude teems with memorable individuals of all ages whose actions spring from their traits.
Li's fourth work of fiction gives the trappings of a murder mystery with none of the dull formula. Instead, she burrows deeply into the minds of her characters. Her prose, by turns sumptuous and austere, is utterly precise ... A brilliant, sorrowful, and unpredictable novel.
Li's effortless ability to move fluidly in time and place—between minutes or decades and across continents—always with exacting details, gives this novel a shattering immediacy. Discerning readers who appreciated the well-traveled, multi-cultural virtuosity of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland, Chang-rae Lee's The Surrendered, and Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone will find rewarding satiety in Solitude.