In her first memoir, award-winning novelist Yiyun Li offers a journey of recovery through literature: a letter from a writer to like-minded readers.
“A meditation on the fact that literature itself lives and gives life.”—Marilynne Robinson, author of Gilead
“What a long way it is from one life to another, yet why write if not for that distance?”
Startlingly original and shining with quiet wisdom, this is a luminous account of a life lived with books. Written over two years while the author battled suicidal depression, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life is a painful and yet richly affirming examination of what makes life worth living.
Yiyun Li grew up in China and has spent her adult life as an immigrant in a country not her own. She has been a scientist, an author, a mother, a daughter—and through it all she has been sustained by a profound connection with the writers and books she loves. From William Trevor and Katherine Mansfield to Søren Kierkegaard and Philip Larkin, Dear Friend is a journey through the deepest themes that bind these writers together.
Interweaving personal experiences with a wide-ranging homage to her most cherished literary influences, Yiyun Li confronts the two most essential questions of her identity: Why write? And why live?
Praise for Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life
“Li has stared in the face of much that is beautiful and ugly and treacherous and illuminating—and from her experience she has produced a nourishing exploration of the will to live willfully.”—The Washington Post
“Li’s transformation into a writer . . . is nothing short of astonishing.’”—The New York Times Book Review
“An arrestingly lucid, intellectually vital series of contemplations on art, identity, and depression.”—The Boston Globe
“Li is an exemplary storyteller and this account of her journey back to equilibrium, assisted by her closest companion, literature, is as powerful as any of her award-winning fiction, with the dark fixture of her Beijing past at its centre.”—Financial Times
“Every writer is a reader first, and Dear Friend is Li’s haunted, luminous love letter to the words that shaped her. . . . Her own prose is both lovely and opaque, fitfully illuminating a radiant landscape of the personal and profound.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Yiyun Li’s prose is lean and intense, and her ideas about books and writing are wholly original.”—San Francisco Chronicle
The vexed intersection between writing and living (or not living) is explored in these ruminative essays. Novelist Li (Kinder Than Solitude) explores tenuous subjects ruptures in time, the difficulty of writing autobiographical fiction, the pleasures of melodrama in meandering pieces that wander through personal reminiscences and literary meditations. Braided in are fragmented recollections from her youth in China, including a stint in the People's Liberation Army; her migration to America to become an immunologist, a career she abandoned to write fiction; stays in mental hospitals; travels as a literary celebrity to meet other literati; and intricate appreciations of writers, including Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Bowen, and William Trevor. The book can be lugubrious; Li repeatedly visits the theme of suicide including her own morbid impulses and is given to gray, fretful melancholia ("There is an emptiness in me.... What if I become less than nothing when I get rid of the emptiness?"). Much of the text is given over to belletristic why-we-write head scratchers such as "this tireless drive to write must have something to do with what cannot be told." But the wispy philosophizing is redeemed by Li's brilliance at rendering her lived experience in novelistic scenes of limpid prose and subtly moving emotion.