Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li (review by Andrew ’17)

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your LifeDear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A few months after I finished Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, the Chinese-born writer Yiyun Li’s 2010 story collection, only one piece lingered in my mind: a novella, entitled “Kindness,” about a girl’s complex relationship with her female commander in the Chinese army. The storytelling style of “Kindness” is pretty run-of-the-mill realism, but there was something in the narrative, some hint toward a deeper melancholia, that stuck with me. Li’s brand-new memoir, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, helps pinpoint what that profound sadness is and where it comes from. Li wrote these essays during her years-long struggle with suicidal depression, but most often she presents recollections from earlier in her writing life. One essay deals with her decision to forsake Chinese entirely and write in English, another with her unlikely friendship with the legendary Irish writer William Trevor, a third with her mentor at the Iowa Writers Workshop, a man just as flawed as the commander from “Kindness.” The publisher bills this memoir as a “richly affirming examination of what makes life worth living.” It’s not. The essays here are pained and painful, meditative and often oppressively sad. Readers willing to brave all that will find insight on nearly every page into the particular somberness of Li’s life and art. – Andrew R. ’17

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