When Everything Falls Apart, How Does the Heart Survive? Orville Schell and Yiyun Li on China, Tolstoy, and the Power of Art, with Adam HochschildSunday, May 2 | 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM
In a heartstopping scene from Orville Schell’s My Old Home, trained musician Li Tongshu sits at his piano, eyes closed, playing “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” as Red Guards storm his home. They’re there to arrest him as a bourgeois traitor, but what they don’t know is that the legacy of Li’s music, and the loyalty of his young son, Little Li, is not easily snuffed out. A journalist and renowned expert on China, Schell has penned his first novel, drawing not only on his deep knowledge of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution but on his conviction that art and love can outlive brutality.
Joining him is MacArthur “genius” and award-winning writer Yiyun Li, who came of age during the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown, emigrated to the U.S. at 23 as a young scientist, and eventually took the literary world by storm with her fiction, memoir and essays. Li regularly turned to reading Tolstoy for solace during tough times in her own life, so in the early days of the pandemic she collaborated with A Public Space—the literary magazine, publisher, and academy—to lead a free virtual book club where thousands of people, isolated under shelter-in-place, read War and Peace together over three months. The project, which garnered worldwide attention, now has been made into a book, Tolstoy Together, a guided experience for past and new readers.
This “Writer to Writer” conversation—moderated by award-winning journalist, historian, and author Adam Hochschild, a lifelong friend of Orville’s and a Russian-speaking Tolstoy fan—will explore how art truly can light a lamp in the dark.