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A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers (2006)

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2006)
3.86 of 5 Votes: 1
081297333X (ISBN13: 9780812973334)
random house trade
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A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers (2006)
A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers (2006)

About book: My first unbeknownst exposure to Yiyun Li was in the Wayne Wang film, The Princess of Nebraska, which was based on Li’s story of the same name. My first thought was if it was your decision to cast Boshen as a white guy in the film then shame on you Wayne Wang! Boshen is supposed to be Chinese! I think that makes it a lot more interesting and slightly less creepy than a middle aged white man who is in love with an 18 year old Chinese man. I like the tension between Sasha and Boshen because they’re both Chinese nationals who have escaped China for the United States and cannot reach Yang who is trapped in China. They both feel like they’ve betrayed him by leaving and yet cannot do anything to help him. In “The Princess of Nebraska” Li writes, “A man like Boshen should have an ordinary life, boring and comfortable, yet his craze for Yang made him a more interesting man” (87) and I felt the same way about this short story collection. I thought it was much more interesting that she had a couple of gay main characters. The story “Son” particularly hit home since it’s about an obedient “good” son who finally tells his mother he is gay. It’s touching and sad.Chinese writers writing in English (or even those who have their work translated into English) always seem to write in super sparse straightforward language so I guess it’s similar to Mandarin. Sometimes it works but generally I find it difficult to find the beauty in that type of language. I had a feeling that in all this straightforward language I was missing something like maybe she wasn’t telling me something on purpose because I was supposed to read into it more. Ah Chinese people and their straightforward but not-so-straightforward way of communication! I was also a little tired of all the flower metaphors and reading about “planting seeds in his wife’s belly” in story after story. Another strike. Though I wasn’t that keen on the writing style, Li is able to craft some memorable characters that have quotable gems: “Being a mother must be the saddest yet most hopeful thing in the world, falling into a love that, once started, would never end” (91). In “Love In the Marketplace” the main character’s mother is a poor tea egg seller at the train station and the daughter tells the mother it’s a waste of money to use expensive spices since they’ll never come back to you. The mother says, “[I’m giving] them their one chance to eat the best eggs in the world” and I loved her for that pride and stubbornness. In “Immortality” the story of the village that raised imperial eunuchs is really imaginative and flirts with magical realism. There is a cool description of the village participating in a sparrow-killing day after 3 years of famine. They all wave fans and bang on things to scare the sparrows off the trees. The sparrows fly, until exhausted, they fall from the sky. It’s about how a baby is born in the village with Mao’s face and he is hired by the government to star in propaganda movies and as a stand-in for Mao after his death. In “A Thousand Years of Good Prayer” I really liked the sarcasm of the daughter, the unearthing of buried family feelings, the display of the rift between the generations, and this quote: Life provides more happiness than we ever know. We have to train ourselves to look for it (188).Many of Li’s characters have been treated unfairly by Communist China and we see the hypocrisy, corruption, and the lengths people go through to survive because a people’s revolution wasn’t fully realized. Though that wasn’t the point of the book she does show how the Communist Party has impacted the lives of people who don’t toe the party line. Most aren’t rebels or revolutionaries—they’ve either been deemed obsolete or they’ve dared to question someone’s authority. I couldn’t get into some of the characters or the language but the good parts are Li’s quiet exploration of the lives of modern-day Chinese people who are trying to mend their broken hearts.I also learned that I’m tired of flower metaphors but gays make everything better.

I finished this book and I have mixed feelings. Not because the stories are bad. On the contrary, they are quite good. What bothered me is that almost aggressive anti-communistic attitude. There is one sentence where old Iranian woman says "I love China. China a good country, very old" and that would be pretty much everything said positive about China (and that comes from the mouth of Iranian woman who never visited the country she's talking about!).I don't have doubts that communism in China was quite different than communism in ex Yugoslavia (where I grew up) and therefore all those rigidness Yiyun Li is talking about is unfamiliar to me. Indeed here, there was blindness as well and rigidness and it possibly was dangerous to criticize regime but it was nothing like it has been described in this book.I just couldn't get rid of the thoughts that author is living in the USA, is publishing book (which probably is in high percentage truth. An awful truth!) where is criticizing horribly something about huge majority of Americans (or Western world in general) don't have a clue but they "know" it's VERY bad; book about the country not very popular in the USA; book with lot black/white comparison between China and America (of course China is always and only black while America is promised land and everything about it is absolutely fantastic). She used the language and topic that will find very fertile soil in America. She described China as a hell from which every thinking Chinese wants to leave. Again, that might be truth but there must be something good there; or at least some respect about the heritage the ones who fled to America brought with themselves. But then, she's not mentioning that. And that thought has had big influence in my general opinion about the book.As I said the stories are very good but if I'm an immigrant and a writer I doubt I'd be able to write this type of book about my mother land. Maybe that's not something I should be proud of but I simply couldn't neglect part I love.
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Yiyun Li came to read at Saint Mary's College of California in the Bay Area a year or so ago, and I'll never forget how she explained her method of creating drama. In a crude paraphrasing, from what I can fuzzily recall, she said each of her characters are strategically angled in opposition to one another. And these angles are where she starts from, so the story's conflict is immediate and urgent. In her short story collection A Thousand Good Years of Prayers each character vies to break free from Communist China. This clash of East meets West fuels misunderstandings and inflames rifts between daughters and fathers, mothers and sons, lovers and friends. And, despite the flood of anguish, anger, and heartbreak that many of these characters brim with, in their confrontation against self, community, and culture, Li's prose is deceptively simple and reserved, reflective of her own restrained background.
I don't know. Overall, it is just another bunch of stories with the very typical content: partially scar literature, partially the topic of the Chinese overseas, estrangement, injustice. An easy read perfect for a train journey, nothing special. Yet at the same time, there are several glitching gems hidden deeep underneath, little things that made me stop, think or even cry, touched me deeply. These are not dependent on the cultural context, more like transcending towards the universality of human relationships, especially the family issues. Striking observances about the failed attempts towards understanding, emptiness combined with obligations and emotional needs. Several lines that made the entire book totally worth it. Interesting.
Ernest Junius
All in the same theme, Yiyun Li's stories are all about (pretty much) Chinese people who try to run away (to the States). Very interesting descriptions and prose style; Li's words are heavily coloured by the vibrant colours of China revolution. She summons Mao a lot in her book, also famous Chinese proverbs, and the less famous one and the more obscure too. These are quite refreshing to me, as this book is the first book from a Chinese author I've ever read.I noted too, a few other interesting points in Li's style in telling stories: She doesn't really end her stories. She'd just spread the circumstances on the floor, like a trader in the market showing off his goods. However, even though the stories feel like they can be continued further, the way they end have a certain closure to it. Therefore I would say her stories end by leaving a fragments of them inside me. Then the second one, which is probably her strong point: she seems to be able to explain every little thing in mundane daily life that we usually miss or don't care enough to explore but actually stuck in our subconsciousness like a stick of fishbone—we do want to find out, but we are just not curious enough or observant enough.I noticed that she might be the Chinese Jhumpa Lahiri or Jhumpa Lahiri might be the Indian Yiyun Li, it just comes to me that they have a lot of similarities in writing their stories: family, little-big conflict, affairs, and all those homy-daily stuff.But in the end I think I quite enjoy this book. I don't know if that's because she's telling a lot about escaping to a better country, talking mostly about hope and new life, reset, new beginning—which of course, leave a feel-good in your soul. I think she's fine. I think I might read her other work.
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