Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart - Mini Review

Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China that Never Was
by Barry Hughart

Published: Del Ray
Format: paperback
Copyright: 1985
Pages: 288
Genre: Fantasy
Source: personal copy

From the back cover
When then children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox sought a wiseman to save them. He found master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flow in his character. Together they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure. 

The quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures – and strange coincidences which are not really coincidences at all. And it involved them in an ancient crime that still perturbed the serenity of Heaven. Simply and charmingly told, this is a wry tale, a sly tale, and a story of wisdom delightfully askew. Once read, its marvels and beauty will not easily fade from the mind. 

I first found this book in the bookstore (remember Waldenbooks?) the year it was published and fell in love with it. This was my first exposure to a fantasy with a non-European setting and is an impressive introduction to Chinese myths. Because this is a nostalgia read, I can't really give it a fair rating now - it has been a 'five claw' book for me for years and I re-read it many times. Because the book was written in 1985 it does have some aspects that some people might consider problematic, though to me it reads like a real (albeit fantastic) history - it is very violent, occasionally disturbing, repeatedly heartrending, sometimes uplifting and overall epic in its sweep. Our heroes are not perfect but the somewhat 'ends justify the means' approach to saving the children of Ku-fu is not an example of protagonist centered morality. I have never found anything that compares to it. 

There were two sequels: The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen.  They are not as good as the first book but still take you on an epic ride.

The Cowherd and Weaver Girl - a Chinese folktale that was an inspiration for Bridge of Birds

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of this book! I do like it when bloggers review older books, especially if I'm completely unfamiliar with them. This sounds interesting and actually, it rings a faint bell... I think it came out the year after I started working for Waldenbooks. I'm glad you had a chance to revisit it!


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