Yiyun Li’s A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

Dear Reader:
I have finished #65 (HC) Yiyun Li’s A Thousand Years of Good Prayers!
Yiyun grew up in Beijing, attended Peking University (the Harvard of China) and immigrated to the US.  This seems to be her first book.
The stories bridge the gap between China and the U.S., often through individuals who have left China for the U.S., but sometimes are returning to visit family in China.
For instance, she tells the story of Han, a naturalized U.S. citizen, returning to visit his mother in Beijing.  He is stressed because she always fixates on matching him up with a Chinese woman on his visits.
The story describes their uneasy relationship.  Han’s mother tends to need an authority figure to lead her to her thoughts.  For a long time, her husband and the communist party gave her this guidance.  Now, her husband is dead and she had found Christianity.
Han is a typical Bay Area hipster, immune to both religion and communism, skeptical of authority.  The story focuses on his exasperation with his mother’s lack of original thought.  His mother strives to lead her son to her answers.  Han is highly impatient with her, although she is gentle with him.  They go back and forth with Han protecting himself by deriding her and his mother defending her choices and trying to convince him why they should be his.
Underlying all of this is the fact that Han is gay and has not come out to his mother.  At the height of his frustration, he tells his mother, only to find out that she has realized this.
The story ends with them on ground that has shifted: Han a bit ashamed of himself, his mother undaunted, and the newly emergent possibility for some kind of connection between them.
I enjoyed these stories.  Li writes well and her stories are engaging.  They follow traditional immigrant themes, but bring a freshness that I enjoyed.
Happy reading!  Ruby
I number books by the order in which they are mentioned in my blog.  HC refers to hard copy.
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2 Comments

  1. Sometimes books like this make me appreciate that I live with dogs; there’s a limit to how disapointed we can be in each other’s life choices.

    I have a number of Canadian friends who are first generation. The gulf between they and their parents can be really … frightening. On top of all the regular expectations etc. that family leave us with, there can also be some significant cultural differences piled on. I enjooy reading books that explore this dichotomy.

    • Hi Christy: Thanks for writing! Your note about dogs and life choices cracked me up… it’s so true: my elderly beagle’s life choice to eat his own dung is something I came to terms with… weeks ago.

      An old friend who lived in Saskatoon told me Canadians and living in Canada is more different from the US than you think… We recently learned, for instance, that it is really easy to approach Canadians on the street and ask them for a research interview. Not Americans!

      Happy reading, Ruby

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