A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

By Henderson, Eleanor | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers


Henderson, Eleanor, The Virginia Quarterly Review


A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, by Yiyun Li. Random House, September 2005. $21.95

"Being someone's child," says one of Li's narrators, "is a difficult job, a position one has no right to quit." In this affecting and delicately constructed collection, winner of the inaugural Frank O'Connor Prize, being a parent is a difficult job too, as is being a spouse, sibling, lover, widow. For many of these characters, caught between the previous generation's Communist China and the romantic freedoms of the Midwest, the burden of kinship is inseparable from the immigrant experience on which so much of American literature depends. What makes Li's interpretation of this experience unique is the parents' desperation to marry off their children (and sometimes the children's desperation to marry off their parents), and especially the inappropriate brand of love her characters find instead. In "Extra," an aging woman whose arranged marriage has disastrously failed becomes infatuated with a young boy at the school where she is a maid. In "After a Life," two first cousins, determined to wed despite their families' protests, produce a mentally ill daughter who haunts their marriage. …

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