Yiyun Li’s “A Soldier Home”


Late last night I sat in the Labor & Delivery waiting room in the hospital where my brother and sister-in-law were preparing for the birth of their first child.  They had checked in early that morning, but the baby still hadn’t arrived.  I was the only family member who could make it to the hospital, so I waited alone, except for the anxious grandmother across from me who had been waiting all day for her first grandchild to be delivered.  I thought about Raymond Carver’s story “A Small, Good Thing,” and wondered if I should reach out to this woman in the same way Ann Weiss does with the family whose son is undergoing surgery. Thoughts of Ann and her husband, the loss of their son, her anger, the baker, and the final scene of the three of them sharing bread as the sun came up kept me occupied until my niece was finally born.  The story took me away from my real life, temporarily, so that I could enter Ann’s world filled with sadness, loss and redemption.

In Yiyun Li’s “A Soldier Home,” she recalls the way she used to live through Frederic’s character in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms as an escape from her mother’s growing madness one summer.  Yiyun was nineteen years old at the time, and had just returned to Beijing after a year of “involuntary service” in the Chinese Army.  Her father approached her one night asking her to save her mother from insanity, the same condition from which her grandmother had suffered before her mother was born.  As Yiyun dealt with her mother’s increasing outbursts and “poisonous words,” and her father’s feelings of failure over not being able to save his wife from madness, she escaped from her real life to assume the life of Frederic, a soldier whose world was filled with the drama of war and love.  She discovers, however, that while Frederic’s war ends “beautifully, tragically,” her own war would continue.

Beverly Paras Parayno was raised in San Jose by immigrant parents from the Philippines. Her fiction, memoir excerpts and author interviews have appeared in Narrative Magazine, The Rumpus, Memoir Pool, Huizache, Warscapes and Southword: New Writing from Ireland. Parayno earned an MA in English from University College Cork and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. A resident of Oakland, she is a freelance grant writer and development consultant for Bay Area nonprofits. More from this author →