A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li
In A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li we have the theme of friendship, culture, freedom, conflict, identity and pride. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Li may be exploring the theme of culture. Baba is somewhat lost while he is staying with his daughter in America. There is the problem of the language barrier. Particularly with his regular companion in the park, the Iranian woman. It is unclear really as to whether either Baba or the Iranian woman understand each other. Though this does not stop them from having a friendship. Though again the reader is unsure as if either person fully understands the other. Which may be the point that Li is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that language can have its difficulties. Difficulties that have brought misfortune onto Baba. While working as a rocket scientist. Baba had a platonic relationship with another woman which was based on how they both thought. Unfortunately due to the regime that existed at the time in China. Baba’s actions were deemed to be inappropriate and as such he was demoted from his position as a rocket scientist. Though he never advised his family.
The fact that Baba’s daughter tells him that she knew he wasn’t a rocket scientist is interesting as she appears to be using this information to green light her own relationship with the Romanian man. Baba finds it difficult that his daughter is the instigator or the one responsible for her divorce from her husband which may leave some readers to suggest that Baba’s daughter simply acted independently of her husband. With the marriage obviously being unhappy for her. The fact that the story is set in America might also be important as Li could be suggesting that in America a person is allowed to be whom they want to be. Something that is clearer when it comes to both Baba’s daughter and the Iranian woman. Who has an independent style of dressing herself. Something which would be the opposite of the environment that Baba grew up in. Baba also takes great pride in the fact that he is a rocket scientist and likes the praise he receives from others when they discover that he was a rocket scientist. Even if it was only for a short period of time.
The conflict that exists between Baba and his daughter is also interesting as it appears to be based on different beliefs when it comes to culture. Baba’s daughter does not see that she has done anything wrong. However Baba makes comparisons to the fact that his daughter has acted like a prostitute. This alone is sufficient to cause an argument between Baba and his daughter. However Li shifts the reader’s attention to the theme of identity with Baba’s daughter telling Baba that she is aware that he was not a rocket scientist. Something which Baba has always prided himself on. It is as though just as Baba feels his daughter has been living a deceitful life. So too does Baba’s daughter think Baba has been deceitful. Something which Baba is not prepared to admit as he does not feel as though he has done anything wrong. Again his relationship with the woman in work was platonic. Though it did cost him a job that he loved. In many ways Baba and his daughter are the same. When Baba was young he was quiet just as his daughter is and just as Baba feels he did no wrong by talking to the woman in work. Baba’s daughter likewise does not feel as though she is doing anything wrong by being in a relationship with the Romanian man.
The end of the story is also interesting as Baba decides upon being honest to the Iranian woman about his job. However due to the language barrier the reader can’t be certain as to whether she understands what Baba has said to her. Though there is a sense that Baba feels deflated and as soon as his tour is over he wishes to return to China. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Baba is leaving America with a bad taste in his mouth due to the conversation he had with his daughter. Two different generations think differently about how they should live their lives with no sense that either is prepared to give the other any common ground. Which may be the point that Li is making. She may be suggesting that with a change in culture comes a change in one’s outlook on life. Baba having lived all his life in China. He feels and thinks one way while his daughter who is Americanized thinks and acts differently. She feels it is important to have the freedom to live her life as she sees fit. Whereas Baba may take on a more traditional approach.