Monday, February 2, 2009

Sky Burial

Sky Burial
by Xinran

UPDATE: I have learned this is not a true story after all, and am somewhat disappointed at being led to believe it was. Still, I recommend the book, it is a good read. The book jacket says:
It was 1994 when Xinran, a journalist and the author of The Good Women of China, received a telephone call asking her to travel four hours to meet an oddly dressed woman who had just crossed the border from Tibet into China. Xinran made the trip and met the woman, called Shu Wen, who recounted the story of her thirty-year odyssey in the vast landscape of Tibet.

Shu Wen and her husband had been married for only a few months in the 1950s when he joined the Chinese army and was sent to Tibet for the purpose of unification of the two countries. Shortly after he left she was notified that he had been killed, although no details were given. Determined to find the truth, Shu Wen joined a militia unit going to the Tibetan north, where she soon was separated from the regiment. Without supplies and knowledge of the language, she wandered, trying to find her way until, on the brink of death, she was rescued by a family of nomads under whose protection she moved from place to place with the seasons and eventually came to discover the details of her husband's death.
This story will grab your attention and grab your heart. It is hard to imagine the twentieth century life in Tibet she describes. Things changed so little from centuries past for the little nomadic family of sheepherders who saved her life and then took her into their family. As you read you become aware there must be some great passage of time, but only a couple of times does the author reveal to you just how many years have passed during Wen's sojourn in Tibet.

The book is just over 200 pages in length, small pages at that, and easily read in a single cozy afternoon. It has all the elements I love most in a book: stories of women and their loves and their friendships, stories of unfamiliar cultures (I am particularly drawn to stories of the far east), stories of love and struggle, and stories that are true.

I won't tell you the outcome of Wen's quest to find her husband as you need to read it in the words told by Wen herself.

After the story was related to her, the author [claims] she lost track of Wen, and has since desperately tried to find her or the nomadic family with whom she lived.

I highly recommend this splendid book

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