Like my previous read, Rainbirds, Kinder Than Solitude opens with a death.
This death though has been a long time coming. Shaoai has been in a coma for many years, the result of a chemical poisoning when she was a teenager, although till this day no one is sure what exactly happened.
Boyang, an old friend, is the one handling the cremation. And the reader is told that he would send emails every month informing two people, Ruyu and Moran, that Shaoai was alive. But these communications had never been acknowledged.
How very strange.
Li then takes us back to those teenaged years when Shaoai was alive. Her family has just taken in a young innocent Ruyu. It is 1989 and Ruyy is moving to Beijing to attend high school. An orphan since young, she had been taken care of by her grand aunts in a small town. Boyang and Moran are Shaoai’s neighbours and are a year older than Ruyu and they will attend the same school.
The teenaged years are interspersed with the current lives of Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang.
Adult Moran lives in Wisconsin and refuses to return to Beijing, not even for a visit.
Places do not die or vanish, yet one can obliterate their existence, just as one can a lover from an ill-fated affair. For Moran, this was not a drastic action: one needs only to live coherently, to be one’s exact self from one day to the next, to make such a place, such a person, recede.
Ruyu too lives in the US, in California, helping a family run their household and working small jobs such as dog sitting and working at a chocolate shop.
Little has bound them together but the waiting, which, all over now, would finally release them into a void, where even the keenest ears could not discern that they, like three unconnected music phrases, has once been in the same piece.
It was a surprisingly dark book. It was a journey, an understanding into how the past affects us, taints us.
This isn’t exactly an immigrant narrative, and it’s definitely not a mystery or crime type of novel. So I’m not exactly sure where it fits. Maybe under the category of “good writing”! I love Li’s writing, her well-observed nuances that reveal life in Beijing. Kinder Than Solitude wasn’t exactly the easiest book to read but I definitely am glad I did read it.
I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – East Asian MC.