The Rare Writer Who Hates the Word ‘I’

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By Jiayang Fan

DEAR FRIEND, FROM MY LIFE I WRITE TO YOU IN YOUR LIFE
By Yiyun Li
208 pp. Random House. $27.

“Why write autobiographically?” the Chinese-American author Yiyun Li asks in this new collection of essays, “Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life,” the closest thing to an autobiography she has ever published. It is a question Li takes seriously and explores tirelessly, not least because she professes an unease with the assertion of the pronoun “I.” It is a “melodramatic” word, Li writes. “The moment that I enters my narrative my confidence crumbles.” This a remarkable statement in a volume that is essentially memoir.

Such diffidence is difficult to detect in her fiction, where the first person has been deployed to devastating effect, albeit infrequently. But then the narrative “I” of a short story is perhaps best seen as a means of self-effacement, and it’s notable that Li’s remarkable fiction — two elegant novels and two story collections — is all assiduously unautobiographical, from the forgotten granny living in China to the gay immigrant seeking asylum in the United States. Read more

Source: The New York Times

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