Brilliant and original, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers introduces a remarkable new writer whose breathtaking stories are set in China and among Chinese Americans in the United States. In this rich, astonishing collection, Yiyun Li illuminates how mythology, politics, history, and culture intersect with personality to create fate. From the bustling heart of Beijing, to a fast-food restaurant in Chicago, to the barren expanse of Inner Mongolia, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers reveals worlds both foreign and familiar, with heartbreaking honesty and in beautiful prose.
"Immortality," winner of The Paris Review's Plimpton Prize for new writers, tells the story of a young man who bears a striking resemblance to a dictator and so finds a calling to immortality. In "The Princess of Nebraska," a man and a woman who were both in love with a young actor in China meet again in America and try to reconcile the lost love with their new lives.
"After a Life" illuminates the vagaries of marriage, parenthood, and gender, unfolding the story of a couple who keep a daughter hidden from the world. And in "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers," in which a man visits America for the first time to see his recently divorced daughter, only to discover that all is not as it seems, Li boldly explores the effects of communism on language, faith, and an entire people, underlining transformation in its many meanings and incarnations.
These and other daring stories form a mesmerizing tapestry of revelatory fiction by an unforgettable writer.
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. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 11, 2006
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Excerpt from A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li
Granny Lin walks in the street on a november afternoon with a stainless steel lunch pail in her hand. Inside the lunch pail is an official certificate from her working unit. "Hereby we confirm Comrade Lin Mei is honorably retired from Beijing Red Star Garment Factory," says the certificate in bright golden characters.
It does not say that Red Star Garment Factory has gone bankrupt or that, being honorably retired, Granny Lin will not receive her pension. Of course it will not provide such information, for these facts are simply not true. "Bankrupt" is the wrong word for a state-owned industry. "Internal reorganization" is what has been kindly omitted in the certificate. And, mind this, Granny Lin's pension is being withheld only temporarily. For how long, the factory has no further information to offer.
"There is always a road when you get into the mountain," Auntie Wang, Granny Lin's neighbor, says to her upon being informed of Granny Lin's situation.
"And there is a Toyota wherever there is a road." The second line of Toyota's commercial slips out before Granny realizes it.
"There you go, Granny Lin. I know you are an optimistic person. Stay positive and you will find your Toyota."
But where on earth can she find a way to replenish her dwindling savings? For a few days Granny Lin adds, subtracts, and divides, and she decides that her savings will run out in a year--in two years if she can skip a meal here and there, go to bed right after sunset, and stay bundled up so that she does not have to feed the insatiable stove extra coal balls through the long winter of northern China.
"Don't worry," Auntie Wang says the next time they meet each other at the market, looking down at the single radish Granny Lin has bought for her dinner, as plump as a Buddha, dwelling between her two palms. "You can always find someone and get married."
"Get married?" Granny Lin says, and blushes.
"Don't be so conservative, Granny Lin," Auntie Wang says. "How old are you?"
"You are even younger than I am! I am fifty-eight, but I am not as old-fashioned as you. You know what? Young people no longer have a monopoly on marriage."
"Don't make me a clown," Granny Lin says.
"I am serious, Granny Lin. There are so many old widowers in the city. I am sure there are rich and sick ones who need someone to take care of them."
"You mean, I can find a caretaker's position for old people?" Granny Lin asks.
Auntie Wang sighs and pokes Granny Lin's forehead with a finger. "Use your brain. Not a caretaker but a wife. That way, you can at least inherit some cash when your husband dies."
Granny Lin gasps. She has never had a husband in her life, and the prospect of a dead husband frightens her. Yet Auntie Wang makes the decision for her right there and then, between two fish stands, and in a short time she finds Granny Lin a match.