Monday, 11 August 2008


'To me, I just feel that always the most interesting or exciting thing about a story is not the drama, but people who watch that drama happen. . . I'm always very much more interested in, I guess, the onlookers. I wanted to write about these people who watched everything without doing anything.'

This is Yiyun Li speaking in an interview in Saturday's Irish Times, ahead of her event that evening at the Kilkenny Arts Festival. She is appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today.

Li has won major awards for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, her debut short story collection. Two excellent examples of her work can be read via the Gettysburg Review and the New Yorker magazine. In What Has That to Do with Me and A Man Like Him the themes of passive and covert complicity in tyranny reminded me of Orwell's 1984 and the recent film The Lives of Others. Li's achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that she is writing in English, a language she could barely speak when she moved from Beijing to the United States in 1996.

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