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Tun-huang (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – November 9, 2010
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“A true historical imagination is exceedingly rare, and [Tun-huang] is a superb example of such an imagination at work.” —Robert Payne, ASIA
“The unique thing about Inoue’s work, for me . . . is that every story presents a vision, and that unlike the visions in books by other authors, I can always follow the vision as I’m reading, always believe it; Inoue has lived and felt these images and has the simplest and airiest language for them that I have ever seen. I don’t need to believe his illuminations, they are simply there in the book, as facts.” —Peter Handke
“a work of superb historical imagination. . . ” —James Kirkup, The Independent
“Early in the 20th century an incredible hoard of Buddhist sutras and other manuscripts was discovered by itinerant monk in Tun-huang. Archaeologists recovered thousands of documents that have been concealed in the Thousand Buddha Caves for 900 years. The author…speculated on the reasons for the hiding of such treasures, and this fascinating and exotic novel is the result.” —Publishers Weekly
“Historical reconstruction of a very personal and special kind.” —Donald Richie
“An enthralling tale.” —Oriental Economist
“A unique writer who has managed to escape the often narrow topical bounds of the Japanese novel.” —Japan Quarterly
"One of Japan's most prolific and respected authors..." —Japan Economic Newswire
“The descriptive passages in Yasushi Inoue's ‘Under the Shadow of Mount Bandai’ are worthy of the longer passages of an Anne Radcliff Gothic tale" —The Japan Times
''One of the most respected novelists in Japan.'' —The New York Times
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Japanese --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The line of this tale is easy to describe: an 11th century scholar wanders west into Central Asia and finds himself caught up in conflicts between established and emerging empires not unlike that region experiences today. Along the way, the scholar is drafted into an army, briefly falls in love with a girl who may have sacrificed herself for him, falls in with a fierce warrior, and spirits to safety a library of Buddhist scrolls before the final battle of the story. There are, of course, warriors, villains, and otherwise conflicted characters along the route.
But that's not what this story is about, although it can provide a satisfactory read just for the story line.
This story, delivered in simple, short, and direct language, not unlike the brush strokes in calligraphy, tells the tale of a man seeking, but not knowing what he seeks, until he finds it. What he finds in the end of his story is a calm that comes with accomplishing an act that is generous, virtuous, requires great effort, demands grace under pressure, an insightful understanding of events around him, and finally an understanding of how the ebb and flow of the conflicts that define the age and individuals living in those times are connected. Practitioners of Buddhism will see the six perfections (generosity, ethics, perseverance, patience, meditative concentration, and wisdom) in this story.
But even for those not schooled in Buddhism, this historical fiction, I think, will create a sense of calm, even after reading about the strife and conflicts detailed in this lesson of impermanence.
The ideas of this text are subtly woven into it. In contrast to many tales set in an historical setting, the characters in Tun-Huang are subtly drawn and complex. The virtuous have fatal flaws. The wicked perform virtuous deeds. The unguided realize purpose and direction. Relationships, cities, even ancient civilizations are impermanent and seldom accurately recalled in memory.
I found this a most rewarding read. It leaves me with a sense of peace and calm, not unlike after a good meditation.
The book moves through twists and turns, all contrivances to take us to the known outcome of preserving the Buddhist sutras from the invading army by secreting them away in the caves at Tun-Huang. All of which makes for an anti-climax as you know Hsing-Te has to survive all until at least that fateful day.
Nicely written and fast-paced - the author's descriptive prose has you feeling the frontier towns, with their narrow passages of maze-like streets and mud walls. The urgency of saving the sutras from the coming fires becomes a little repetitious towards the end, but overall an enjoyable tale that leaves you wanting to learn more about the Tun-Huang caves and the mysterious library of scrolls.
His novel, enriched by five years of research, is a tour de force of imagined history. Originally published in 1959, it brings the past to life with amazing power. I got so caught up that I'm wishing I could visit Dunhuang and feast my eyes on the art treasures of the Silk Road. Maybe I will.
The story opens in 1026. Hsing-te, a most engaging character, fails to take the final exam that would have ensured his success in the Chinese bureaucracy. Through an odd adventure (the first of many), he becomes obsessed with learning the written language of Hsi-hsia. This new nation is aggressively resisting China's dominion on the northwestern frontier. Impulsively Hsing-te sets off for this barbarous region.
On one level Tun-Huang reads like an adventure story. Yet it's also infused with romance. Hsing-te has unforgettable encounters with exotic women. He has prophetic dreams, as well, that add an element of mysticism and a sense of destiny to everything that transpires.
This New York Review Book edition is full of wonderful introductory material. It brought me up to speed on the Dunhuang discovery and Yasushi Inoue's literary achievements.
I'd highly recommend Tun-Huang to history buffs and lovers of Japanese literature.
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For those interested in historic novels and history. In this case Chinese.Read more