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Book Review: Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li

Perhaps one of the most soul-wrenching yet heart-warming books that you will ever read, Where Reasons End takes pain and morphs it into something achingly beautiful.

After writing her 2017 memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, Yiyun Li tragically lost her sixteen-year-old son to suicide.

Amongst the painful loss, however, emerged the beauty of Where Reasons End.

The 2019 novel focuses solely on imagined conversations between the protagonist writer and her late son, much of which is synonymous with Li’s personal journey.

Li’s detailed language around the numerous conversations between mother and son is meticulously used. The sharp rebuttals between the pair defines the style of the novel and draws you into the humility and strength of the characters.

As you read you are witness to the raw conversation of the mundanity of everyday life; the extremity of pain and heartbreak and the often harsh reality of mental illness.

Among the most moving aspects of the novel is its power to ask some of life’s most difficult questions during, often candid, conversations. After discussing the mother’s interest in others daily lives, she abruptly asks Nikolai whether he still suffers. Her son stops for a moment and responds by saying:

"Depends how you use the word.”
“I looked up the word suffer. It comes from sub, from below, and ferre, to bear.”
“So, if you ask me if I still have to bear the weight of living, he said, no, I don’t suffer anymore.”

The vulnerability that sits at the centre of this novel offers something so poignant and profoundly important, to the point where words ironically fail to express their simplicity in direction yet complexity in emotion.

Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons End sits among the most powerful of poetic literature and undoubtedly a book that everyone must read.


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