'The Vagrants' by Yiyun Li

Award Winning Young Fiction Writers Series Session 3: Nov. 14, 7 p.m.

The VagrantsThe Vagrants bookcover is a gripping account of political dissent, grinding poverty, and brutal repression. Bashi is a perverse trickster who stirs up trouble wherever he goes. Kai is a forceful spokeswoman for the state who harbors deep doubts about its legitimacy. Tong is a boy who inadvertently brings doom to his father. Gu Shan, a onetime government cadre becomes condemned as a sacrificial lamb.

Here are study questions we will be exploring on Thursday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m.:

  1. How does the author of The Vagrants depict pre-revolutionary China?  With nostalgia? Condescension? Indifference?
  2. How are teachers depicted in Yiyun Li's novel?  Does anyone in the book teach anyone else something of value beyond the lessons imposed by the state?
  3. It's a familiar refrain in The Vagrants that "the law does not punish the masses."  Is this an accurate statement, or one the author intends with irony?
  4. Unlike Gob's Grief, there are no visible ghosts in The Vagrants.  But the dead still have influence over the living.  What kind of power do they exert?
  5. Why does the author call the characters of this book "vagrants"?  In what sense are they shiftless or homeless?
  6. What is the typical fate of daughters in this book?  How does their destiny differ from that of sons?
  7. What does the dramatic course of Gu Shan's life say about the history of China during a 25-year period?
  8. What makes Bashi so persuasive?  Is he a child of the system--or an independent predator who operates outside of it?
  9. The Communist state of The Vagrants makes political self-criticism a public event.  Are any of the novel's characters given to self-criticism in the private sphere?
  10. Do the punishments at the end of The Vagrants transform or change any of the characters?  If so, how?  What does this tell us about Yiyun Li's vision of modern China?

Here a few hyperlinks to learn more about Yiyun Li and her work:

Thanks to the Friends of the Cleveland Park Library for sponsoring the series.

Everyone is welcome; you don't need to be a member of the Friends to attend. You're welcome if you've missed earlier sessions.

Please join us on Thursday, Nov. 14, 6:30 p.m.