Some Beautiful Moments from A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

I've read more than half of the book at this point, and I must note that it was actually an intruder into the line-up which was to have been Ron Hansen's Exiles, Elizabeth Bowen's The Death of the Heart, and one of several books by William Trevor. But I sampled and found myself irresistibly drawn in.

from "Immortality"
in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
Yiyun Li

Accepting that our town is too shallow a basin to contain a real dragon, most of us give up and marry our daughters off to local young men. Yet some among us cling to the nonexistent hope, waiting for the day when he will realize the incomparable beauty and virtue of our daughters. For a number of years, scores of girls in our town are kept untouched by their parents. Too much looking forward makes their necks grow longer each year. It is not an unfamiliar sight to see a girl with a crane-like neck walk past us in the street, guarded by her parents, who have grown to resemble giraffes.

Ms. Li seems to be an epiphany artist, who unfolds for us a variety of revelations in the course of her stories.  She also seems to be a person of deep compassion and moral sense, although that is somewhat more difficult to state categorically.

from "The Princess of Nebraska"
in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
Yiyun Li

As if responding, the baby moved. A tap, and then another one, gentle and tentative, the first greeting that Sasha had wished she would never have to answer, but it seemed impossible, once it happened, not to hope for more. After a long moment, people in the street shouted, and children screamed out of excitement. Sasha looked up--the lights were lit up in the trees, thousands of stars forming a constellation. She thought about the small Mongolian town where her mother lived alone now, her long shadow trailing behind her as she walked home along the dimly lit alley. Her mother had been born into a wrong time, lived all her adult life in a wrong place, yet she never regretted the births of her two daughters. Sasha held her breath and waited for more of the baby's messages. America was a good country, she thought, a right place to be born into, even though the baby had come at a wrong time. Everything was possible in America, she thought, and imagined a baby possessing the beauty of her father, but happier, and luckier. Sasha smiled, but then when the baby moved again, she burst into tears. Being a mother must be the saddest yet the most hopeful thing in the world, falling into a love that, once started, would never end.

While the language isn't perfect, the thoughts and the feelings and the atmosphere captured create a sense of person and place that is unlike any other I have encountered in reading short stories.

From "Son"
in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
Yiyun Li

Of course, Han wants to make a joke. Her god is just like a Chinese parent, never running out of excuses to love a son. But he stays quiet when he looks up at his mother, her eyes so eager and hopeful that he has to avert his own.

This is the very end of the story that works perfectly to capture the two--mother and son--that it portrays.  What a powerful and mixed ending--now, you must get the book and read the rest that leads up to this end--it is well worth your time.


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