Yiyun Li is too realistic a writer to dispel the misunderstandings between her characters who soldier on, all too believably, in their stoical isolation. Self-pity is not an option for most of them, but as readers we can pity their predicaments and admire the refusal of their creator to simplify their lives.
The New York Times
A beautifully executed debut collection of 10 stories explores the ravages of the Cultural Revolution on modern Chinese, both in China and America. "Extra" portrays the grim plight of Granny Lin, an elderly widow without a pension, whose job as a maid at a boarding school outside Beijing leads to a surprising friendship with one of her young charges, Kang. Li deftly weaves a political message into her human portraits: young Kang, the son of a powerful man and his now "disfavored" first wife, is an "extra"-that is, as useless in the new society as Granny Lin has become. A hollowed-out recluse in the collective apartment block of "Death Is Not a Bad Joke If Told the Right Way," Mr. Pang-once denounced by his work colleagues as being "a dog son of the evil landlord class"-still appears daily at a job where he is no longer even paid, and spends his home life counting grains of rice on his chopsticks. Even the charmed fatherless boy of "Immortality," his face so like Chairman Mao's that he's chosen to be the dictator's impersonator after Mao's death, falls from favor eventually, ending his days as a self-castrated parasite. These are powerful stories that encapsulate tidily epic grief and longing. Agent, Richard Abate. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Yiyun Li's stories have been published in The New Yorker and garnered her the Plimpton Prize for New Writers. Her debut collection creates intimate scenes of life in a China in transition, a subject she knows personally as a Beijing native (she immigrated to the United States in 1996). Traditional ways adapt to a proscribed Communist way and adapt again for the newly capitalistic society. In the opening story, "Extra," Granny, a single woman of 50, retires involuntarily, finds menial work at a children's school, and develops a close maternal relationship with a lonely young boy. "After a Life" looks at the Su family's attachment to their mentally retarded and severely handicapped daughter and how this affects the parents' marriage and relationship with their son. "Son" tells the story of a young man who, on a visit from the United States, tells his mother that he is gay. In "Persimmons," villagers discuss the heroism of Lao Da. No matter the theme-be it human redundancy in an overpopulated country or the complex nature of the parent-child relationship-these stories are complex, moving, and surprising. Highly recommended for all academic and public libraries.-Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The state bears down on the Chinese characters in this story collection, Chinese-American Li's debut. Sasha and Boshen are watching a holiday parade in Chicago, surrounded by carefree young Americans unburdened by history. "I would trade my place with any one of them," says 21-year-old Sasha, whose movements are restricted in China. No wonder the American concept of "moving on" is so magical. In "The Princess of Nebraska," Sasha is in Chicago to get an abortion arranged by Boshen, an older, gay Chinese man. The father is Boshen's ex-lover, a female role actor with the Peking Opera. The complicated back story overwhelms the intriguing three-way entanglement; "Love in the Marketplace" and "The Arrangement" are similarly affected by baggage. Other stories are simpler. In "Extra," an unmarried middle-aged maid exults in maternal love for a six-year-old "extra," the unwanted son of a discarded wife, while in "Son," a "diamond bachelor" (Chinese-born U.S. citizen) tells his mother he's not on the marriage market, because he's gay. The most overtly political story is "Immortality" (winner of the Paris Review Plimpton Prize), an ambitious allegory cleverly linking the eunuchs who served the ancient dynasties to the fortunes of a young man who's the spitting image of Mao and is chosen by the state, after the Chairman's death, to impersonate him. But no story makes its point more cleanly than "Persimmons," in which the peasant Lao Da has already had a run-in with the Birth Control Office for not reporting three extra children. When he is denied justice following his only son's drowning by a corrupt county official, Lao Da goes on a rampage, killing 17 bureaucrats. The powerless man must resort tomass murder to show he is not a "soft persimmon"-a patsy. Some ungainly plotting, but the author is one to watch.
“Yiyun Li is a true storyteller. Great stories offer us the details of life on the riverbanks: birth, family, dinner, and love, all framing the powerful flow of terror, death, political change, the river itself. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is as grand an epic and as tenderly private as a reader could wish.”
–Amy Bloom, author of Come to Me
“With great tenderness, tact, and humor, these stories open a world that is culturally remote from us, and at the same time as humanly intimate as if its people were our own family and their thoughts the thoughts that lie nearest our own hearts.”
–Marilynne Robinson, author of Gilead and Housekeeping
“This extraordinary collection reminds you just how big a short story can be. With wit, ruthlessness, and an understanding of human nature–its grand follies, private sorrows, and petty dreams–A Thousand Years of Good Prayers may remind you of Flannery O’Connor, though Li is an original. Read this book and marvel at a writer both at the height of her powers and at the start of a brilliant career.”
–Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Giant’s House