|Harper Collins Paperbacks|
the observer Sat 24 October 2009
It's 1979, three years after Mao's death, and Gu Shan, a counter-revolutionary, is about to be executed. Spurred on by rumours that greater freedom in China is imminent, a peaceful rebellion follows, with disastrous consequences. Li's debut novel, following her 2005 short story collection, showcases her superb, Dickensian eye for detail. She depicts a brutal world: a cripple bullied by her family; a scheming orphan; Gu Shan's distraught parents; and the kindly beggars of the book's title. Those who live by their basic needs are expertly contrasted with academics and dreamers, all ultimately "sufferers in their despicable pain" eased only temporarily by rare glimpses of human kindness. A powerful first novel.