four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
By: 
Yiyun Li
user_rating: 
0

A-ThousandYearsGoodPrayers"That we get to meet and talk to each other—it must have taken a long time of good prayers to get us here," says the old Chinese man to his friend while visiting America. In Li’s collection of 10 stories, we meet individuals befuddled by the heavy hand of Chinese history and the Cultural Revolution, but persistent in maintaining their dignity—the old, under pagodas waiting for rain, the young, impatiently lined up at Starbucks. Characters spout Maoisms, obsess over Casablanca, take in homosexual lovers, roam the American Midwest, and slump through booming Chinese cities. Li elegantly leaps over the chasms between the young and old, the dead Communists and the virile consumerists, the ancient Chinese eunuchs and nostalgic American popcorn.
Random House. 206 pages. $21.95. ISBN: 1400063124

Providence Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Li’s most powerful effects come not from the beauty of her words but from her deep sense of transcendent reality. … A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is not only an outstanding first book of fiction by a young writer, it is a literary event that transcends language. Li’s stories express an inexpressible joy." Tom D’Evelyn

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Her prose is wonderfully complex, emotive and smart, so good, in fact, that it makes her fellow Chinese ex-pat Ha Jin read like a mere carpenter. Her sentences not only move some fine stories along, they also dramatize a serious understanding of contemporary life and a deeply felt response to the rigors and vagaries of drinking from modernity’s sometimes bitter cup." Alan Cheuse

San Jose Mercury News 4 of 5 Stars
"[Li] elevates patient endurance to near-heroic stature in these stories of ordinary lives swept back and forth by the tides of history and politics. This book may be one of the year’s most auspicious debuts." Charles Matthews

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This collection of 10 short, fictional stories examines and explores Chinese cultural phenomena such as eunuchs, the one-child policy, corruption, arranged marriages, the rise of religious fervor, and the stigma of single women, and then juxtaposes the Western-embracing youth with their traditional elders. … Growing up in Beijing, Li has captured the art of writing in a way that both explains and honors Chinese culture, while also questioning it." Jennifer Moeller

Village Voice 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Her direct style works best when she sticks to telling us what happens. In abstract territory, however, her ingenuous voice translates into a severe shortage of subtlety." Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow

Critical Summary

With a Plimpton Prize and publications in the New Yorker and Paris Review, Li has found her natural medium: writing stories in her nonnative English. Her language is simple and graceful, her observations of modern life penetrating and moving. In her book debut, she has rendered, with freshness, the rich tapestry of global Chinese life in all its complexity, angst, and comfort.