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A Thousand Years of Good Prayers - Book of the Month

by Yiyun Li

What did I know about present-day China before I read this book? Tiananmen Square; cockle-pickers; coal-fired power stations; megalithic new cities; cheap labour; Hong Kong; and the list goes on in the same rather depressing vein. Now, though, after reading Yiyun Liís beautifully-crafted stories about moments in the lives of Chinese people, I feel I have gained an insight into the dynamics of modern China and the complex legacy of the Cultural Revolution. Yet none of her tales are overtly political: they are psychologically acute and sometimes disarmingly poignant vignettes of ordinary people and their relationships to each other.
In each of these wonderful stories we see people whose lives have been shaped by the turbulent history of the twentieth century and are now trying to keep up with the extraordinary changes taking place in the twenty-first. One of the recurrent themes of the collection is secrets Ė the son who canít tell his mother that heís gay; the married cousins who hide the awful product of their union from the world; the woman who learns from her father to conceal the truth with silence Ė and the moment that what has been kept in the dark emerges into the light. Yet, despite the guilt and shame that accompanies that repression, the overall message from this collection is one of optimism.
Her writing is deceptively simple: without a superfluous word, she creates a multi-layered narrative with characters that demand our attention and empathy. I donít generally choose to read short stories but Iíd urge anyone to read these memorable and intriguing tales.
Yiyun Li has won several awards for her stories and A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS has won the Guardian First Book Award 2006.

Read our interview with Yiyun Li.


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