Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in your Life

Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in your Life

Book - 2017
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"Yiyun Li's searing personal story of hospitalizations for depression and thoughts of suicide is interlaced with reflections on the solace and affirmations of life and personhood that Li found in reading the journals, diaries, and fiction of other writers: William Trevor, Katherine Mansfield, and more"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York :, Random House,, [2017]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780399589096
0399589090
Characteristics: 208 pages ; 22 cm

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MelissaBee
Feb 16, 2018

"Living is not an original business."

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lostintheshelves
Sep 14, 2017

One hides something for two reasons: either one feels protective of it or one feels ashamed of it. And it is not always the case that the two possibilities can be separated.

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MelissaBee
Feb 16, 2018

When reading Yiyun Li's "Dear Friends..." I could not help but compare it unfavorably to Helen Macdonald's all together more engaging memoir, "H is for Hawk." Though each book is a very personal statement, they do share some distinct similarities. First, each book was written over a period of dark reflection for each writer, Li laid low by a lingering suicidal depression and MacDonald devastated by the sudden and unexpected death of her father. Second, each writer found solace and insight in reading and practicing her writing craft. Finally, both books explored the lives of other authors with the intense interest that only a writer can bring, plumbing their depths for insights, comfort, or reflection.

Like many other reviewers, I really wanted to enjoy Li's work, especially as she had made two leaps of amazing bravery in her life that aroused my curiosity: first, moving from communist China to the United States in her twenties, and second, her decision to leave her stable profession as an immunologist to throw herself fully into an uncertain career as a novelist writing solely in her new language, English.

With so much to work with, I am sad to report that Li's effort is only intermittently engaging and too vaguely organized to really be compelling. Whereas MacDonald's work is linear and well paced, Li's is vague and meandering. Where MacDonald moves from intellectual to emotionally engaging writing with ease, Li struggles with creating much warmth in her work, impeding any sense of building a relationship with the reader. Finally, where MacDonald plumbs the lives of a select few authors for rich insight, Li tries to cover too many authors without much depth. I left MacDonald’s exploration with a clear sense of satisfaction, I finished Li’s with more than a tinge of annoyance at having to work so hard to gain so little.

Perhaps I am too harsh on Li. I did find that I learned more than a little about her, not only by what she shared, but also in the clear difficulty she had in focusing on herself. The book also has some very bracing and intelligent passages early on that I can easily imagine returning to and reflecting on. The brief glimpses we do get into her life are enticing and she illustrates so well the comfort and solace that readers can find in books. Perhaps a person who shares Li’s enthusiasm for the authors Catherine Mansfield, Philip Larkin, James Allen McPherson, Breece D’J Pancake, Stefan Zweig, John McGahern, and William Trevor will also find extra interest where I did not.

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MelissaBee
Feb 16, 2018

MelissaBee thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

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