Bookshelf Challenge – A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li

For the last few years, one of my besties has been doing the Unread Shelf challenge. The idea is (in part – it’s a bigger challenge than it looks) to use prompts to help a reader work through the Unread Titles on their shelves.

Inspired by her, I am in the midst of attempting to gain control over my unruly bookshelves, so have tallied up my UnRead Books.

Just fictional books – not including poetry, factual or eddyumacational books – ONLY fiction, you get me?

There’s 128 books.

That’s…that’s a bit much really.

So here’s where I tackle them, book by book – to finally figure out which are staying, which are going to be donated and which are going to be discarded unfinished. Oh yes, I’m in that sort of a ruthless mode!

My 5th book over all and first for 2022 was A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li

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 fast-food restaurant in Chicago, to the barren expanse of Inner Mongolia, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers reveals worlds both foreign and familiar, with heartbreaking honesty and in beautiful prose.

“Immortality,” winner of The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize for new writers, tells the story of a young man who bears a striking resemblance to a dictator and so finds a calling to immortality. In “The Princess of Nebraska,” a man and a woman who were both in love with a young actor in China meet again in America and try to reconcile the lost love with their new lives.

“After a Life” illuminates the vagaries of marriage, parenthood, and gender, unfolding the story of a couple who keep a daughter hidden from the world. And in “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers,” in which a man visits America for the first time to see his recently divorced daughter, only to discover that all is not as it seems, Li boldly explores the effects of communism on language, faith, and an entire people, underlining transformation in its many meanings and incarnations.

These and other daring stories form a mesmerizing tapestry of revelatory fiction by an unforgettable writer.


As this is a book that has been languishing on my shelves for years, I’m thrilled that I’ve finally read it.

The ten stories are each quite different from one another and seem to cover a vast range of emotions and experiences…and I didn’t really understand any of them.

Have you ever been watching something on the telly, fallen asleep and then when you’ve woken up attempted to position the original story onto what turns out to be a different show/film entirely?

Reading these was like that for me.

Each story was very crafted with care. The set ups are established subtly and the characters emerge very well rounded and deftly drawn. And then the tales end and I don’t get it? The note that the first story Extra ended on had me so perplexed that I immediately went to google to find an explanatory review. Unfortunately while the review did make sense to me, I couldn’t see the connections – even with them being highlighted!

At no point was I confident that I actually understood the point that was being made or why the characters reacted in the way that they did. In some cases, I couldn’t follow the logic of the characters whatsoever – Love in the Marketplace was particularly opaque to me.

The final and titular story I could at least logically follow – it was also set in the US – a father visiting his divorced daughter. This was a very bittersweet tale and one that definitely tugged at my heart strings, though I feel sure that whatever I am getting out of it, it is unlikely to be what the author had in mind!

While this is a book set in a culture very different to the ones that I have grown up with, I don’t think that is what is causing the disconnect. After all, the broad themes of life apply to everyone – friendship, culture, freedom conflict, identity and pride. And I have read translated books, books from other countries, cultures, time frames and never felt as distant as I have here.

It’s been a really interesting experience!


Left in the little free book box on my street.


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