Yiyun Li has spent two years writing her essay which appeared in the collection I write to you in your life. Topics which affected her as a writer as well as her as a Chinese woman living and working in America. Yet, it is not only theoretical essays on different subjects such as suicide, the role of writers, connection between language and identity etc., it is much more a kind of biography, a very personal insight into Yiyun Li’s thoughts and feelings.
Some of her thoughts I found not only remarkable, but they gave me a lot of food for thought. E.g. when she writes that she does not trust her past since her memory could be tainted. It is true, we cannot have something like a neutral remembrance, it is all within. The co text of what was before and what came after. At times, big catastrophes which seem to destroy our lives are considered just minor events a couple of months or years later. So we do not keep the memory of that specific moment but the classification made afterwards.
She also explains the title which is actually a quote from Katherine Mansfield‘ notebooks. At first, I was wondering about the idea, but slowly I could understand what she was referring to. Of course, as a writer, you aim at entering somebody’s life, at being important and relevant for a reader. You also might write to express yourself, but what worth does it have to write something which neither read by anybody nor relevant for anybody?
Her analysis of suicide comes to a convincing conclusion: one never kills oneself from knowledge or understanding, but always out of feelings.“ (Position480). Since those feelings can never be fully felt by somebody else, so who are we to judge suicide? No matter the individual explanation, it is the person’s decision which has to be accepted.
When she reads in other writers‘ notes, she has the feeling of entering into conversation with them. She enters into others‘ lives, follows their train of thoughts and in this ways advances herself. Since you can never trust what somebody writes, you can at least build a broader picture of the writer since you can never write without also offering something of yourself
Her most interesting aspect for me, however, was the thoughts on the impact of the language. Yiyun Li writes in English which is not her mother tongue. Yet, this is quite natural for her, she rejects writing in Chinese and does not feel limited by her capacities in English. It is also her relationship with China that forbids her writing in Chinese.
All in all, I have the impression of a very personal book which wants to enter into conversation with the reader. It does not provide definite answers to anything, it raises many questions and thus enters into conversation with you.