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A Thousand Years of Good Prayers: Stories Paperback – September 12, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A beautifully executed debut collection of 10 stories explores the ravages of the Cultural Revolution on modern Chinese, both in China and America. "Extra" portrays the grim plight of Granny Lin, an elderly widow without a pension, whose job as a maid at a boarding school outside Beijing leads to a surprising friendship with one of her young charges, Kang. Li deftly weaves a political message into her human portraits: young Kang, the son of a powerful man and his now "disfavored" first wife, is an "extra"—that is, as useless in the new society as Granny Lin has become. A hollowed-out recluse in the collective apartment block of "Death Is Not a Bad Joke If Told the Right Way," Mr. Pang—once denounced by his work colleagues as being "a dog son of the evil landlord class"—still appears daily at a job where he is no longer even paid, and spends his home life counting grains of rice on his chopsticks. Even the charmed fatherless boy of "Immortality," his face so like Chairman Mao's that he's chosen to be the dictator's impersonator after Mao's death, falls from favor eventually, ending his days as a self-castrated parasite. These are powerful stories that encapsulate tidily epic grief and longing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From 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.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 12, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081297333X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812973334
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sharon on August 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is Yiyun Li's highly acclaimed short story collection which won the inaugeral Frank O'Connor Short Story Award among others.

If proof were ever needed that US MFA programmes don't necessarily churn out writing clones, Li amply provides it. (She attended the famous Iowa Writer's Workshop). Her writing is fresh, lyrical - yet at times deeply disturbing. The short stories did precisely what short stories should do: illuminate small lives in telling snapshots, walk around in your head long after the few pages that contained them are read, shake you up.

It wasn't the best holiday reading - the collection made me feel weighted with melancholy for all the tangled lives Li depicts and the necessary makeshift compromises her characters are forced to make. I found it hard to snap out of the little worlds Li creates.

Most of the stories take place in a rural and small town China struggling with economic change and the move to a more free-market econonomy.

All human messiness is here. In Love in the Marketplace a schoolteacher obsessed with the film Casablanca, is the victim of a broken promise. A stranger who arrives in the market place offering to slash his arm with a knife for money is the only person who seems able to honour his word.

Extra is a hugely compassionate story about a middle-aged woman made redundant from her garment factory job. There's no way Granny Lin can survive on her dwindling savings and she reluctantly accepts a marriage of convenience to a sick old man. When he dies, she takes a job as a cleaner in a private school where she befriends a lonely little boy as much a reject as she is. Through both encounters, her eyes are opened for the first time in her life to the possibility and nature of love.
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Format: Paperback
I first found Ms. Li's short story, Immortality, in the Paris Review. She frames a story around a rural Chinese village's tradition of sending castrated young men (the euphemism she uses is "cleaned") to the imperial palace to serve as eunuchs. Fast forward to the Cultural Revolution, the story shifts focus to a young man with the likeness of the country's dictator (it can be inferred that she is speaking of Mao Tse-Tung). The surprise is how she weaves present with past to reveal stories of China.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is full of such beautifully rendered stories.

In Princess of Nebraska, a Chinese man and a Mongolian woman traverse time and space in a quiet Michigan cafe while pondering their past relationship to the same man, Yang, a blithe narcissistic Beijing youth with a gift for singing Beijing opera.

In Love in the Marketplace, an English teacher in a rural village ponders a promise broken by two of the most important people in her life - her childhood sweetheart and her best girlfriend.

In story after story, the reader finds disappointment and a trail of hearts broken by modern life's adversities, lies, and unfulfilled dreams. The language of the book adds to an unadorned tone that is at once mercilessly unforgiving in description of human life and deeply sentimental and non-judgmental of the characters. Highly recommended!
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By Milan R. on September 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
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 women who never visited the country she's talking about!).

I don't have doubts that communism in China was quite different than communism in ex Yugoslavia (where I grow up) and therefore all those rigidness Yiyun Li is talking about is unfamiliar for me. Indeed here there were blindness as well and rigidness and it possibly was dangerous to criticize regime but it was nothing like it has been described in this book.

I just couldn't get rid of the thoughts that author is living in USA is publishing book (which probably is in high percentage truth. An awful truth!) where is criticizing horribly something about huge majority of Americans (or Western world in general) don't have a clue but they "know" it's VERY bad; book about the country not very popular in USA; book with lot black/white comparison between China and America (of course China is always and only black while America is promised land and everything about it is absolutely fantastic). She used the language and topic that will find very fertile soil in America. She described China as a hell from which every thinking Chinese want to leave. Again that might be truth but there must be something good there; or at least some respect about the heritage the ones who fled in America brought with themselves. But then, she's not mentioning that. And that thought has had big influence in my general opinion about the book.
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Format: Hardcover
In the title story of this engaging short story collection by Yiyun Li, Mr. Shi comes to a Midwestern American town from China to visit his estranged and recently divorced daughter. In a local park, he meets and befriends an elderly Iranian woman whom he calls Madam, even though neither speak much English and they can hardly understand one another's speech. "That we get to meet and talk to each other...must have taken a long time of good prayers to get us here," he explains an old proverb to her in Chinese. "It takes three thousand years of prayers to place your head side by side with your loved one's on the pillow. For father and daughter? A thousand years, maybe." As Mr. Shi's story unfolds, we learn that he must have fallen well short of a thousand years, and that, in fact, most of his life as a rocket scientist has been a lie.

A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS is filled with tales of family conflict and intergenerational relationships, stories of tragic ancestors, divorced and suicidal parents, adopted children, gay sons, unfaithful spouses, jilted lovers, unborn babies, and loveless marriages. Ms. Li's China is an unhappy place where families struggle to survive, accepting their fate and just trying to get by until their life's sentence on Earth has been served. Happiness is mostly transitory, inevitably followed by a return to the harsh punishments of reality. Li's America is little better, a place where people may live more comfortably but still fail to connect in meaningful ways. In her world, no one seems to have amassed enough good prayers.

In her opening story, "After," Ms. Li presents the late-in-life story of Granny Lin, a spinster who is just leaving her bankrupt factory, carrying her "honorable retirement" certificate in her stainless steel lunch pail.
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