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A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers Paperback – 1 February 2007
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In this extraordinary first collection, Yiyun Li brings us a modern China facing up to a complex history of repression and guilt. In 'Immortality', winner of the Paris Review prize, a young man bears a striking resemblance to the dictator, and so finds a strange kind of calling. In 'Extra', first published in the New Yorker, a Chinese woman, alone in middle age, befriends a young boy who has become an outcast in a remote country school. In their friendship, we see how love can begin to overcome the strictures that dominate their lives.
In turn horrifying and breathtakingly lyrical, Yiyun Li, a new and talented young Chinese writer, confronts the silence that dominated the history of her country, and illuminates how mythology, politics, history and culture intersect with personality. She leaves us with an enduring vision of a country undergoing tremendous change.
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‘Li’s writing is beautifully spare and controlled.’ The Times
'Yiyun's confidence as a storyteller lends her fiction a traditional air, but there's nothing old fashioned about her perspective…When I've sampled other recent Chinese writing, I've had a sense of western publishers being seduced by the novelty of it all, snapping up authors with dramatic histories and slim talents. Yiyun is the real deal…Yiyun has the talent, the vision and the respect for life's insoluble mysteries to be a truly fine writer. Michel Faber, Guardian
'Great narrative skill…demonstrates that the best way to learn about people in a foreign culture is through good fiction.’ Irish Times
'Li has a remarkable talent for telling the story of the whole of China through apparently insignificant lives.' New Statesman
'These mesmerising stories present a glimpse of modern China more nuanced than any reporter could ever hop to gleam.' Daily Mail
‘Li's moving, engrossing stories are particular in their place…but universal in their themes and their relevance.’ The Observer
'If you have ever wondered what life is like in modern China, but can't afford the airfare and lessons in Mandarin, you should read this book. In fact if you haven't given China a second thought, this is a collection of stories worth reading.’ Impac News
About the Author
Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing, China, and came to the United States in 1996. She is the recipient of several prizes for her writing and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Li’s stories have been published in the New Yorker, the Paris Review and elsewhere. She lives in Iowa City, USA, with her husband and their two sons.
- Publisher : Harper Perennial GB (1 February 2007)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 254 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0007196636
- ISBN-13 : 978-0007196630
- Dimensions : 12.95 x 1.78 x 19.56 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 387,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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I'm sure life in China can be very difficult. Li was very skilful at showing how the repressive nature of Maoism has combined to toxic effect with more old-fashioned ideas from Chinese culture. For all that Mao claimed to have liberated his country, it's clear from Li's stories that people in same-sex relationships and unmarried women still have a horribly tough time of it, and that there's insufficient state help offered to the poor, and to those coping with serious illness, their own or that of family members. The book is certainly essential reading in times where Mao appears to be being given an increasingly easy time of it. And it does provide some interesting insights into modern China - though I agree with the reviewer who felt that it read a bit 'China is bad, America is good'.
The problem is that every single story is so miserable (at least, as far as I got) that the book ceases to be enjoyable reading in any way, and just becomes a catalogue of misfortunes proving that life in modern China is hell. By the time I had read about the old woman whose attempt at a late-life marriage goes horribly wrong and who is subsequently sacked from her job at a school due to a pupil's perfidy, the elderly couple struggling to care for their disabled daughter on very little money who finally take desperate measures, the young man whose life is ruined by his close resemblance to Mao, the young Chinese girl and older male Chinese scholar who both have their hearts broken by a male star of the Peking Opera who leaves the girl pregnant (this was the best of the stories I read), the unhappy girl who finds her mother is not her birth mother after her parents get divorced, and the young teacher Sansan who was jilted by her lover, I couldn't bear any more and gave the book away to my local charity shop. There was just too much misery. Other writers - Nicole Mones or Liu Hong, for example - have managed to criticize Mao's regime and modern China while still showing the beauty of the country and its culture and that, to paraphrase Slavenka Drakulic, it is possible to 'survive communism and even laugh'. Li simply shows the misery with no hint of anything that might alleviate it, and it felt too much.
The stories are in a format and structure which is very familiar to Western readers which probably also helps to make them accessible. They are beautifully