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Bridge of Birds (1984)

by Barry Hughart

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,521965,930 (4.36)300
Number Ten Ox brings Master Li Kao back to his village of Ku-fu to find the cure for a mysterious sleeping plague that has struck the villagers' children.
  1. 80
    The Princess Bride by William Goldman (fugitive)
  2. 40
    Silk Road by Jeanne Larsen (Macbeth)
  3. 40
    The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones (DemetriosX)
    DemetriosX: Although not as light-hearted as Master Li, the adventures of Dabir and Asim in the world of the Arabian Nights are similar in their pursuit of the solutions to problems with the mythical and magical.
  4. 40
    Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat by Ernest Bramah (Anonymous user)
  5. 40
    Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (MyriadBooks)
  6. 41
    The importance of understanding; translations from the Chinese by Yutang Lin (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: For the record, this work cited by Hughart for containing Miser Shen's prayer to his daughter Ah Chen actually does exist.
  7. 41
    Tea with the Black Dragon by R. A. MacAvoy (fugitive)
  8. 20
    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (fugitive)
  9. 10
    Some Chinese Ghosts by Lafcadio Hearn (DCBlack)
    DCBlack: Collection of short ghost stories from Chinese folklore.
  10. 10
    Journey to the West (complete) by Wu Cheng'en (acceptance)
  11. 10
    Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (wordcauldron)
  12. 00
    The Tokaido Road: A Novel of Feudal Japan by Lucia St. Clair Robson (MyriadBooks)
  13. 00
    The Innkeeper's Song by Peter S. Beagle (questionablepotato)
  14. 00
    One For The Morning Glory by John Barnes (wingkitty)
  15. 00
    Oriental Tales by Marguerite Yourcenar (kittycatpurr)
  16. 00
    The Wallet of Kai Lung by Ernest Bramah (Cecrow)
  17. 00
    Heart of the Ronin (the Ronin Trilogy: Volume One) by Travis Heermann (wordcauldron)
  18. 00
    Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin (wordcauldron)
  19. 14
    Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock (fugitive)
    fugitive: Co-winner (with this book) in 1985 of the World Fantasy Award (Novel).

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» See also 300 mentions

English (95)  Spanish (1)  All languages (96)
Showing 1-5 of 95 (next | show all)

I enjoyed this much more than I expected - great fun! ( )
  spiritedstardust | Dec 29, 2022 |
I thought this was a fun book, with lots of good humor. I had a bit of trouble keeping up with all the characters, but that wasn't too much of a problem. I guess you could compare this somewhat to The Princess Bride in many ways, though I didn't like this as much. But it was a fun diversion from my usual more serious reads. ( )
  MartyFried | Oct 9, 2022 |
Book Review of Barry Hughart's 'Bridge of Birds: A Novel of An Ancient China That Never Was' (1985)

I should have written a review weeks ago. But I have a slight flaw in my character. (Haha).

If this book were to assume human form, it would be that golden statue of Budai surrounded by small children. I imagine him to be jokey and laughey, but sometimes veers into moments of extreme profundity, then he's back at being a goofball again.

Bridge of Birds tells of the adventures of Number Ten Ox and the great scholar Master Li Kao in pursuit of a cure for a great calamity that has befallen Number Ten Ox's village. Number Ten Ox is endearing because of his pureness of heart. Master Li Kao is just crazy, but not really. It's a simple and straightforward story, but it's not really. Along the way to their quest for the cure, you are presented a panoramic view of a China that is filled with magic of all sorts of varieties. Things are not what they seem.

What stood out for me was the sense of humor. I remember reading a lot of these zen stories when I was younger, and I thought the book has that spirit to it. Though light-hearted, there are some really profound and sad scenes. The humor can get morbid and dark.

This book can be talked about, but as the great zen master Lee Siu-Lung once said,
“Its like a finger pointing away to the moon. Dont concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.” Now go and experience all that heavenly glory for yourself.
( )
1 vote rufus666 | Aug 14, 2022 |
"It's yours for a song," said Master Li. "In this case a song means a large purse of fake gold coins, two elegant suits of clothes, the temporary use of a palatial palanquin and suitably attired bearers, a cart of garbage, and a goat."
One-Eyed Wong did some mental addition.
"No goat."

And to think I had never even heard of this book until a couple of weeks ago! Such a wonderful book as this is a true joy to find. Bridge of Birds is simultaneously wry, wise, earthy, hilarious, subversive, and full of human warmth; it would have been on my favorites list for ages had I known to read it years ago. Fantasy, fable, folk tale, ripping yarn, or what have you: it's all these and a bit more. If anything, I was struck by the acts and thoughts of kindness throughout. It is, in a way, about working to find joy, after all.

Read it if you can. ( )
1 vote MLShaw | Dec 25, 2021 |
So I read this a long time ago, and I mostly didn't remember it. I finally found a copy, and on a re-read, I found an amazing book set in a fictional China. When all the children in Number Ten Ox's Village end up in a deep sleep, the village elders task him with finding a master scholar who can help, Unfortunately (or fortunately), Ten Ox finds Li Kao, a Master with a slight flaw. What the flaw is.... I'll leave it up to you to figure out.

Where the story really shines is the way mythology and common sense/trickery are merged together, into something that's half con-job story, half fairy tale.The fairy tale is weaved in gracefully, and I'm not entirely sure its a common tale in China, or if the author took it from a European story.

The story is incredibly well written, and is always solidly grounded. When magic does happen its surprising, but adds to the mystique of this world. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Dec 20, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 95 (next | show all)
"This is a very funny book, and in Number Ten Ox we have a narrator whose ingenious outlook lends reality to the most fantastic of adventures..."
added by octopedingenue | editThe Christian Science Monitor

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hughart, Barryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Meitzelfeld, MaryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Caveat Oriens

prolepsis (prō lep' sis), n., pl. -ses (-sēz). 1. Rhet. the anticipation of possible objections in order to answer them in advance. 2. the assigning of a person, event, etc. to a period earlier than the actual one.
- The Random House Dictionary of the English Language
Caveat Occidens

Chen. To stand still. To gallop at full speed.

Wan. A small mouth. Some say a large mouth.

Ch'he. Devoid of intelligence, deficiency of wit, silly, idiotic. Also used for borrowing and returning books.

Pee. A dog under the table.
A dog with short legs.
A short-headed dog.

Maou Tsaou. A scholar not succeeding and giving himself over to liquor.

- The Chinese Unicorn, edited, from Chinese-English dictionaries, by Thomas Rowe; printed for Robert Gilkey (private circulation).
For Ann and Pete
First words
I shall clasp my hands together and bow to the corners of the world.
My surname is Lu and my personal name is Yu, but I am not to be confused with the eminent author of The Classic of Tea.
"Take a large bowl, fill it with equal measures of fact, fantasy, history, mythology, science, superstition, logic and lunacy. Darken the mixture with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousand years of civilisation, bellow 'kan pei' - which means 'dry cup' - and drink to the dregs."

Procopius stared at me. "And I will be wise?" he asked.

"Better, you will be Chinese."
"My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character."
"Immortality is only for the gods," he whispered. "I wonder how they can stand it."
Last words
Disambiguation notice
This is not to be combined with BRIDGE OF BIRDS - ORIGINAL DRAFT as they are both radically different works.
Do not combine this with BRIDGE OF BIRDS - A TALE OF AN ANCIENT CHINA THAT NEVER WAS as they are two radically different works. The Original Draft of Bridge of Birds has been published to accompany the limited edition (200 signed and numbered copies; Subterranean Press) of Master Li and Number Ten Ox and is not available for sale separately.
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Number Ten Ox brings Master Li Kao back to his village of Ku-fu to find the cure for a mysterious sleeping plague that has struck the villagers' children.

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"A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was"
A lively, humorous and easy-to-read fantasy adventure, great fun.
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