Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li [in Library Journal]
“My mom is an immigrant so she speaks English with an accent,” Yiyun Li’s son introduces her to his kindergarten class. “Thank you my dear,” she responds, “but I still make a living by writing in English.” Despite significant literary accolades, hers is not “an expansive vocabulary,” her son insists. “Luckily my mind is not limited by my vocabulary,” she replies as she conjures her son – dead at 16 by suicide.
“We once gave Nikolai a life of flesh and blood; and I’m doing it over again, this time in words.” Labeled a novel, Li’s stories are many: at 3, Nikolai declares he’d live with Li until age 73; at 5, he starts a journal he calls “Sixty Years of Nikolai,” convinced every book title has to include a number of years because of Li’s own A Thousand Years of Good Prayers; at 8, he chides Li’s editor that she “should have pressed [his mother] to work harder on the backstories.”
Memories fade, but these impossible conversations become Li’s salvation. “What I’m trying to explain is this: Some people live by images, some by sounds. It’s words for me.” Sentences, paragraphs, pages later, Li transforms tragedy into a desperate miracle of survival.
Review: “Fiction,” Library Journal, Winter 2019