The Vagrants

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The Vagrants
By Yiyun Li
Fourth Estate £7.99, 352 pages
FT Bookshop price: £6.39

Set in 1979 in a provincial Chinese city, Yiyun Li’s powerful debut novel revolves around the public denunciation and inhumane execution of a once zealous Red Guard whose sole crime was a loss of faith in communism. Most citizens are cowed by her fate: don’t wear bright colours, one old father warns, because “people would notice and talk”.

Li skilfully explores this paranoid drabness of mind in her contrastingly vibrant cast of characters.

While less dramatic than some recent Chinese dissident literature, this eloquent, brooding novel bleakly anticipates 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre.

Through the warmth and vitality of its characters The Vagrants offers an intense accumulation of personal tragedies – but scant succour or optimism in its stark portrayal of a repressive, proscriptive regime bent on obliterating the individual.

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