Author: Yiyun Li | Page Count: 205
'They were put into satin dresses … and were each fed a cup of mercury. The mercury killed them instantly, so their peachy complexions were preserved when they were paraded in sedan chairs before the coffin.'
If it hadn't been on sale price and I wasn't desperate for something to fill a long journey I’d not have given A Thousand Years a second glance. There were a number of titles I could've chosen that day but something made me purchase Yiyun Li's début. I can’t explain why, because the blurb made it sound like a troubled romance novel and that's not my idea of a good read.
It mixes existing socio-political Chinese history with observations and personal insight in order to explore how cultural identity and familial upbringing influence our decisions and affect our lives. Li strives to highlight the consequences to the individual in a State where weakness is to be avoided and individuality can be seen as a precursor to insurrection. I know that sounds really heavy reading, at times it is, but all of that is secondary to the human story, the personal reasons people do the things they do rises to the surface with a resounding thump in each of the character studies on offer. Her work is about cause and effect, and about following or denying your heart. That’s distilling it to something barely worthy of the text, but is all I can manage in a short space.
Li writes in English and while her prose style is obviously influenced by her Chinese teachings her technique strips the text of all unnecessary chaff, leaving behind the essential and truthful voice of an author inching into greatness.
4½ eunuchs get a bad deal out of 5