The fifth instalment in a new series where we ask authors to revisit the opening sentences of their stories. Here, Yiyun Li talks about the want for confrontation in her writing.


‘There is a fundamental difference between being able to find consolation in life and being able to invent it; do you, Hui asked herself, possess or at least understand either skill?’

In the early drafts, the story started from the second paragraph: it’s a natural place to introduce the setting of a suburban neighbourhood, the idea of communities, a conflict between the narrator and her (human) habitat. But as I kept writing, that opening became too safe and I wanted some confrontation, not from without, but from within.

The difference between finding things and inventing things is always fascinating to me: there are scientists who find pathways to understand diseases, and there are scientists who invent machines and gadgets to make our lives easier day by day. Yet in a sense one cannot happen without the other: we look for what our minds are capable of inventing; and we invent what our minds look for.

In this story Hui struggles to understand that difference, and so I thought it would be important to make that conflict present right away. One can say she has both invented and found her consolation, if not happiness, a life to be lived out. But for her, and perhaps for many, the solidity of an invented life is not trustworthy.


Image courtesy of ultrahi

After the War
Lindsey Hilsum | Podcast