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Tun-huang by Yasushi Inoue
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Tun-huang (original 1959; edition 1959)

by Yasushi Inoue, Damion Searls (Preface), Jean Oda Moy (Translator)

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134489,677 (3.81)22
Member:Stbalbach
Title:Tun-huang
Authors:Yasushi Inoue
Other authors:Damion Searls (Preface), Jean Oda Moy (Translator)
Info:NYRB Classics (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

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Tun-Huang by Yasushi Inoue (1959)

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His style is concise to the point of historical summary, frequently, but he seems to cover large ground in his books of 200-250 pages. The haiku of historical novels? I didn’t know what to make of this at first, particularly with the summary passages. It slowly dawned on me that it’s quite the little work of art. Probably better in Japanese.

The characters were drawn in enigmatic strokes. I couldn’t predict what they were going to do. The Uighur girl who changes lives, but is a victim of everyone herself, remains nameless. The hero is far from a saint, even a soldier-saint, but I cared, as us bookish types must, when he found his calling to save the Buddhist scriptures from the wars.

This is the only novel I know of about the Tangut, here in the early expansionist days of their state, Xi Xia in Chinese or with a native name that has been translated The Great State of White and High. There were odd details. His early job as a conscript is to fire a ‘whirlwind cannon’ from horseback as he gallops through enemy lines; he faints each time, but that’s fine as he’s hooked onto his horse. Later he’s involved in the establishment of a Tangut script. This state on the outskirts of China was in constant tension as to how influenced by China/how independent to be, and Inoue paints the changes of policy, and the consequences of statehood, in his brief but telling brushstrokes. Our Chinese hero has been mysteriously attracted hither, after another short, strange, never-forgotten encounter with a girl, Tangut this time. I was made uncomfortable by his attention to ‘race’, which you can argue isn’t very eleventh-century, but these are muddy waters.

Great little book. I’m onto my next of his. ( )
2 vote Jakujin | Jan 19, 2014 |
The cache of ancient Dunhuang manuscripts discovered in 1907 buried in a cave in China includes the world's oldest printed text the Diamond Sutra. How did the manuscripts end up there 900 years ago? No one really knows. Japanese author Yasushi Inoue (1907-1991), once seen as a contender for the Nobel, decided to write a fictional version of events. Although it's historical fiction, he spent many years researching the 11th century and so most of it can be read as an accurate history. It's beautifully crafted and an enchanting story that smoothly transports one back to a different time and age. The characters are both bigger than life heroic, and have the weaknesses and vulnerabilities that make us human. This is literature of the best sort: almost as accurate as non-fiction, literary themes, educational, adventurous and compelling.

Throughout is a Buddhist theme of the desire for earthly acquisition that is never fully obtained because of the power of impermanence, represented by dreams. This can be seen when the main character, Hsing-te, seeks to become a Chinese civil servant, but is denied entry after he falls asleep and misses the exam, having spent his time in a dream. Or when the captured barbarian princess, who finds security as a concubine, takes her life for the sake of her dream of being loved by the spirit of her long-dead groom. The strong and heroic character Wang-li seems invincible in battle, but his life is undercut when he falls in love with a woman he can never obtain nor forget. The arrogant Kuang is destroyed by his avarice for certain gems which hold a mysterious power over him and he can never obtain. Finally it is the physical manuscripts themselves, gateways to another world, that continue to fascinate. They are a material connection to the impermanent nature of life. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Dec 30, 2012 |
Tun-Huang is a modern re-telling of an old myth. In the early 20th century, a hoard of early Buddhist sutras was discovered in the Tun-Huang caves of western China. This story attempts to recreate the story of how they got there, and it’s the story of Chao Tsing-te, a young man in the 11th century who mistakenly, and serendipitously, sleeps through an important qualifying exam for a government position and ends up in the wilds of northern China and the Silk Road.

It’s a short novel, and in some ways I wish it had been longer. The author literally takes his reader over a lot of ground and a large period of time, and Tsing-te experiences a lot (from distinguishing himself in battle to falling in love). The story itself was interesting, but the author spent a lot of time describing battles, over and over again. There’s also a lot of melodrama to the story, which I didn’t really find believable. The author is better at character development, though, and I really enjoyed in many places the theme of one young man’s journey (literal and figurative) to find himself. I’m not sure I totally “get” it, though, which is why I’m reserving judgment on it and giving it only 3 stars. ( )
2 vote Kasthu | Feb 16, 2012 |
In 1026, Chao Hsing-te falls asleep in a courtyard and misses his call for an all-important examination that will land him a coveted job in the Chinese civil service. With his life plans turned upside down, he wanders aimlessly and then a chance encounter makes him decide to travel westward so he can learn the language of the Hsi-hsias, a neighboring people who are threatening the western boundaries of China. Over the subsequent years, he wanders, frequently changing course on what seems to be spur of the moment: fighting battles with the vanguard Chinese unit of the Hsi-hsia army, falling in love with a princess caught in a captured city, learning to write the Hsi-hsia language and creating a Hsi-hsia - Chinese dictionary, traveling with an arrogant and successful trader, studying and becoming enamored of Buddhism. All of this leads up to his role in an actual historic event, hiding thousands of Buddhist scrolls in the caves at Tun-huang, scrolls that were not rediscovered until the 20th century.

While I found Hsing-te's personality a little difficult to understand and Inoue's focus on the nobility of characters with royal blood a little irritating, I really enjoyed the depiction of the environment, people, and the interactions among warriors, traders, and scholars in the western regions of China and central Asia nearly 1000 years ago. And it is an adventure story too; I definitely kept wanting to find out what was going to happen Inoue's writing is deceptively simple, but well suited to what reads almost like a history, a history with fascinating characters.
9 vote rebeccanyc | Jan 4, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yasushi Inoueprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moy, Jean OdaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moy, Jean OdaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Searls, DamionForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the spring of 1026 Chao Hsing-te arrived in the Sung capital of K'ai-feng from his provincial home in Hunan to sit for the Palace Examination.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0870115766, Paperback)

A romantic adventure and an explanation of one of the great mysteries of western China - how the sacred scrolls of the Sung dynasty were saved from the barbarian tribes of the Hsi-hsia.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:42 -0400)

In Tun-huang, the great modern Japanese novelist Yasushi Inoue tells the story of Chao Hsing-te, a young Chinese man whose accidental failure to take the all-important exam that will qualify him as a high government official leads to a chance encounter that draws him farther and farther into the wild and contested lands west of the Chinese Empire.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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