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A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,725 ratings  ·  356 reviews
Brilliant and original, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers introduces a remarkable new writer whose breathtaking stories are set in China and among Chinese Americans in the United States. In this rich, astonishing collection, Yiyun Li illuminates how mythology, politics, history, and culture intersect with personality to create fate. From the bustling heart of Beijing, to a ...more
Paperback, 220 pages
Published September 12th 2006 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published September 20th 2005)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  2,725 ratings  ·  356 reviews


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Greta G
Ten beautifully constructed stories about everyday life in communist China.
I enjoyed these subtle, humane and affecting stories immensely and will definitely read more work of this author.
The title story, “A thousand years of good prayers”, was made into a fine movie by director Wayne Wang.

Extra *****
“The happiness of love is a shooting meteor; the pain of love is the darkness following.”

After a life *****
“For each drop of water one received, one has to repay with a well.”

Immortality ****
“The
...more
Milan/zzz
Nov 10, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: awarded, asia
I finished this book and I have mixed feelings. Not because the stories are bad. On the contrary, they are quite good. What bothered me is that almost aggressive anti-communistic attitude. There is one sentence where old Iranian woman says "I love China. China a good country, very old" and that would be pretty much everything said positive about China (and that comes from the mouth of Iranian woman who never visited the country she's talking about!).

I don't have doubts that communism in China wa
...more
Samir Rawas Sarayji
Nov 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
Oh I could barely make it half-way through this collection. The stories read like over-crafted anti-Chinese but pro-America narratives. The characters felt forced and the dismissive attitude of Chinese culture was a turn off. When I read an international writer, I want to be shown about the culture they are depicting, but I don't want to be constantly told or reminded what I should feel about it. Frankly, I don't understand all the praise this book has received, until I saw a the end a not-so-br ...more
Cecily
Ten short stories, each encapsulating a different aspect (and often, era) of Chinese life, behaviour and culture. Brilliantly evocative and plausible.

Monique
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Monique by: Bennard

Original post here.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li is one of the books that I was dared to read this year, courtesy of the book club's I Dare You To Read year-ender/welcome activity last January. A short backgrounder: participants to the activity were asked to name one Best Read and one Worst Read for 2013 (if they could bring their print copies or share digital copies of the books, that would be even better), and then everyone gets to pick one title each from the collated Best
...more
Rashaan
Jan 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Yiyun Li came to read at Saint Mary's College of California in the Bay Area a year or so ago, and I'll never forget how she explained her method of creating drama. In a crude paraphrasing, from what I can fuzzily recall, she said each of her characters are strategically angled in opposition to one another. And these angles are where she starts from, so the story's conflict is immediate and urgent.

In her short story collection A Thousand Good Years of Prayers each character vies to break free fr
...more
Tzurky
Feb 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book, very emotional. The stories were gut-wrenching (which I enjoy), perhaps even more so because they seemed true to life. I would recommend it to anyone who can stomach the unpleasantness of reading about the realities of life we try to escape by immersing ourselves into books.
While the stories were uniquely Chinese, in that they reflect the political, economic and social context of the country, they deal with universal human experiences, such as love, family, finding purpose in
...more
David
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a rich and enchanting collection of stories. Vivid and transporting. I enjoyed them quite a bit.
Jenny
Apr 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Jenny by: MacArthur genius
My first unbeknownst exposure to Yiyun Li was in the Wayne Wang film, The Princess of Nebraska, which was based on Li’s story of the same name. My first thought was if it was your decision to cast Boshen as a white guy in the film then shame on you Wayne Wang! Boshen is supposed to be Chinese! I think that makes it a lot more interesting and slightly less creepy than a middle aged white man who is in love with an 18 year old Chinese man. I like the tension between Sasha and Boshen because they’r ...more
Tanuj Solanki
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Notes

1. There were two stories done in first-person plural. One of them, 'Immortality' - about how a boy grows up to be a Mao lookalike - is perhaps the best story in the collection.
2. In two of the stories, Li falls into a common trap - having to explain a lot of back-story towards the end of the story. Examples are 'The Arrangement' and the titular story.
3. There are at least three classic short stories here - 'After a Life', 'Immortality', and 'Death Is Not a Bad Joke If Told the Right Way'
America Herrera
Dec 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely beautiful.
Fikri
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Easily one of the best short story collections I’ve read; there wasn’t a single piece I didn’t enjoy. Li’s prose is clear, observant, and unsentimental (in the best possible sense of the word). I almost docked a star off because I don’t think it’s on the level of say, The Vagrants, but that’s an unfair comparison to make especially when I think Li has really mastered the form of the short story. Her stories spin off small details — a deed, a fixation, often a secret — and span relatively brief t ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

With a Plimpton Prize and publications in the New Yorker and Paris Review, Li has found her natural medium: writing stories in her nonnative English. Her language is simple and graceful, her observations of modern life penetrating and moving. In her book debut, she has rendered, with freshness, the rich tapestry of global Chinese life in all its complexity, angst, and comfort.

This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

...more
Sarah
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of these stories feel rather bloodless, a little constructed, but also intriguing in the detail of Chinese lives. The scope does seem quite narrow - I can't believe I'm saying that, as we have China past, present and emigrant going on here, but there is little sense of the vastness of human experience out there; instead there is overlap in themes and troubles. All quite moving.
Marian
May 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Stunning, bleak, honest, and often chilling. At least one story is somewhat marred by awkwardness but the overall quality and nerve are at such a high level that it hardly matters.
Ali
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this more than anything I'd read for a while.
Anatoly Molotkov
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A compelling short story collection whose diverse, nuanced characters struggle with various implications of the communist experiment, "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" takes on a near-Kafkaesque metaphoricalness with the help of the distance the author's emigration and her decision to write in English impose on the material. A powerful voice.
James K
Perhaps if anybody might have a stake in the trans-cultural, Asian-Ameican literary tradition, alongside say Jhumpa Lahiri and Chang-Rae Lee, then Yiyun Li [herself following a well-worn heritage of Amy Tan, Gish Jen etc.] might be that author. Published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review and Glimmer Train, Li seems to be what America wants - but perhaps not what America needs? I had high hopes for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, it having won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story awar ...more
Ernest Junius
All in the same theme, Yiyun Li's stories are all about (pretty much) Chinese people who try to run away (to the States). Very interesting descriptions and prose style; Li's words are heavily coloured by the vibrant colours of China revolution. She summons Mao a lot in her book, also famous Chinese proverbs, and the less famous one and the more obscure too. These are quite refreshing to me, as this book is the first book from a Chinese author I've ever read.

I noted too, a few other interesting p
...more
Lillian
Sep 21, 2012 rated it liked it
A book of short stories many of them brutal and written in sparse pointed language, illustrating the barrenness and futility of the characters whose lives the stories depict. There are 9 stories of Chinese people, some immigrants to the United States, some still living in China. The last story, titled, A thousand Years of Good Prayers is the most intriguing and poignant story. It is the one from which the book takes it's title. The father in the story, is concerned with his daughter's unwillingn ...more
Debbie
Apr 22, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub-reads
This was my bookclub read for April and I have to confess that I didn't finish it. I'm not a fan of short stories and so put off reading it until I just didn't have enough time to finish it in the time available. However, as far as short stories go, these ones were better than a lot I've read. Which isn't saying much, but it's something!

The writing was good, but the stories themselves were very negative and depressing. They dealt with the lives of Chinese people in modern day China and all the c
...more
Emilie Zink-Wright
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-print
I LOVED this collection of short stories. Li portrays the lives of her characters in China or America marvelously. I learned a lot about Chinese history and culture and loved being introduced to a world I knew almost nothing about.
Barbara
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Each of these stories was like a small treasure waiting to be unwrapped. The writing is very visual and engaging and Li takes her time fleshing out specific characters and settings. Once you are on the journey, the story takes an unexpected turn and you are left scratching your head....how did this happen? I appreciate the way Li's stories give an insight and a criticism into Communism and how the Cultural Revolution effected so many generations of Chinese people. There is a harshness to some of ...more
Abby
Feb 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
The stories that were published in acclaimed magazines read like awkward, stilted clunkers. Ironically, it is the stories that have not been previously published that shine like small, unpolished gems. The title story is a subtle yet powerful tour de force that hints at Li's promise as a new voice in American literature.
Nicki
I found these stories quite peculiar really. Partly i think because they are from a completely different time and culture to mine. I can't decide if I liked the writing style either as it's all tied up with the culture. They are not uplifting stories at all, just strange, but maybe that is because they are from a very hard time ?
Elizabeth
Nov 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
"Pragmatic" was the word we argued over in workshop. "I think he means unromantic," went the clarification. Bare bones, unsentimental, and moving, in both sense of the word, in strange directions. I love these.
XD
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites-3
Ugh. Worth it just for the essay in the back. My heart is broken and so full at the same time. Yiyun Li is a master master master. she does a lot of info dump but her storytelling is never truly bogged down because of it.
Daniel Tam-Claiborne
Short stories were a little hit and miss. I loved the first one and wasn't especially moved by the next three, and eventually stopped reading. Stories related to the Chinese experience, both nationally and the diasporic community abroad (especially in the US), which was interesting.
Ma'lis Wendt
Apr 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Well written, but very sad stories of contemporary Chinese peasants in small town China and the US.
Ann-Marie
Feb 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ann-Marie by: selma
I liked it even though I normally don´t like to read short stories.
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Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing, China and moved to the United States in 1996. She received an MFA from Iowa Writers' Workshop and an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. Her stories and essays have been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review,and elsewhere. She has received a Whiting Writers' Award and was awarded a Lannan Foundation residency in Marfa, TX. Her debut ...more

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