A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li

Issue #98
Winter 2005-06

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, stories by Yiyun Li (Random House): The stories in this debut book are boldly plotted, deeply felt, and slyly humorous. The overall effect is of having read a number of powerful novels, intertwined by setting and race (all the stories involve Chinese or Chinese Americans). In "Extra," a lonely old woman learns what love means, first through a brief marriage to a much older man, and then through a slightly longer stewardship of an abandoned boy, only to have to relearn both times that to everyone else she is merely an extra in a class-conscious world. Shame runs through these tales—the shame of a couple hoping to reclaim their aloof son once their sickly and challenged daughter dies, the shame of a father who must resort to mass murder after his son is killed by a judge—but the sorrow is artfully undercut by a humor entrenched in an authentic and compelling realism. "What’s the point fighting for a dead boy?" one witness asks. "A dreamer is what you are, asking for the impossible." Most of these stories, while seeming somewhat exotic and improbable, are deeply resonant because, regardless, the vision and the craft of the author have made them seem so hauntingly probable. —Fred Leebron