At the beginning of The Vagrants, the first novel by Yiyun Li, one at a time, each of the main characters comes into contact with one of the notices being posted all over the Chinese town of Muddy Waters announcing the execution and denunciation of a counterrevolutionary. The characters revolve around these notices like the spokes of a wheel.
The next layer involves each of the characters in scene with another character. Because we have met them all, we often recognize the character entering the scene before the character does who is already there. This technique involves the reader in the story. It connects us to the characters. We become a part of the inner circle. These interactions continue to occur to build the story, which gradually opens wider and wider.
By allowing us to see each character through the many different eyes of the other characters, readers come to know the characters in all their strengths and weaknesses. We love them despite.
Teacher Gu and Mrs. Gu, Tong, Nini, Bashi, Kai, the Huas–this is a character-rich novel. It is quiet and measured despite its political subject matter, and despite the evil forces at work in the world…
“The wheel of life, with its ruthless revolving, could be merciful at times.”