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Tun-huang (New York Review Books Classics)
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Tun-huang (New York Review Books Classics)

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  191 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
Tun-Huang, in Central Asia, is a walled city along the Silk Road that historically connected China to the West. It is also the site of the Thousand Buddha cave where, in the early 1900s, Sir Aurel Stein discovered an extraordinary treasure trove of early Buddhist sutras and other scriptures. In Tun-Huang the novel, the great modern Japanese novelist Yasushi Inoue imagines ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 9th 2010 by NYRB Classics (first published 1959)
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Sep 17, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: If those lost ten years haunt you
Recommended to Mariel by: good reputation + I really liked The Hunting Gun
I have been reading this small book for weeks. It should not take me so long to read a barely two hundred page book. I'm a reading ninja! Not to bang my own gong or anything but I am.
It's boring. Maybe it'll take me fourteen years like it took the translator to translate it from Japanese into English.

I appreciate that Inoue wanted to fill in the decade gap of history about the thousand Buddha caves and the silk road but... Yawn. Boring. It reads like James Cameron's Titanic if it were not even
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Someone, we don’t know who, chose one of the caves in the Thousand Buddha Caves to hide thousands of Buddhist sutras and other manuscripts. That was in the early 11th Century in Central Asia, a time of invasions and devastating war. Such an invasion was the likely reason that someone caused the sutras to be hidden. It could not have been an easy task, but the few people with knowledge of the hiding place did not survive; at least they took the secret with them. It took nine centuries for the rem ...more
Bryn Hammond
Sep 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: steppe-fiction
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 everyon
May 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: big-red-circle
I saw an NYRB edition of this for £4.00 at and I didn't buy it! It is rare for me not to buy a book by a Japanese author when found browsing in a used bookshop and I really like the NYRB classics editions....

...I didn't buy it because it looked boring. My experience of Japanese authors writing about somewhere other than Japan was limited to the opening of Mishima's "Temple of Dawn".* I really didn't get along with that. All those temples and sutras and bodhisattvas ... "Tun-Huang"
Sep 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A historically and culturally fascinating story told in spare, precise, and beautiful language. Inoue especially excels at creating vivid images of the natural background to the human actions (or inactions) of his characters, for example:

'The sun had set below the desert horizon. In the crimson afterglow, a cloud floated, resembling the head of a yak; then its form and color slowly changed. The blinding crimson with its golden overtones gradually turned to orange, to vermilion, and finally to a
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book's description speaks of "magically vivid scenes, fierce passions, and astonishing adventures....a profound and stirring meditation on the mystery of history and the hidden presence of the past." I'm surprised by this description of a very boring book. Interesting concept, extremely boring implementation. The skeleton of the plot is somewhat interesting, but overall it's battle after battle with very little about the caves at Dun-Huang.
Oct 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rob Shurmer
Dec 10, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia
Hmmm... I found the central characters rather two-dimensional and nothing particularly interesting in the plot. Perhaps I am not Buddhist enough to appreciate the pointlessness or simplicity of it all.
David Greaves
Feb 19, 2013 rated it liked it
"You came back with your mind made up to grow old and wither away in the white grass plains." - whatever else I thought about the book, Inoue pretty much nailed it right there.
I was so excited to find a copy of this book that I bought it brand new, full price, from an actual bookstore. The Dun Huang documents are my favourite historical finds, an amazing collection of tens of thousands of Buddhist, Taoist and secular documents, written in Chinese and many central Asian languages found sealed in a cave at the beginning of the 20th century. They had been sealed up for almost 900 years and included both printed and hand written works. The find have been an incredible sou ...more
Vincent Powell
Jul 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
I usually like everything NYRB puts out, and if I find a random book in a thrift store with the label on the side I'll pick it up. This was one of those finds. Anyways, the story starts out pretty interesting, with this guy leaving everything he's ever known to head off into the unknown. But about halfway through the book his resignation towards his fate feels stagnant. Which is crazy, because somebody heading into a battle not caring whether they live or die sounds like a dramatic, interesting ...more
Olga Zilberbourg
A young student who fails his civil service exam in medieval China falls upon a life of adventure, joining for a time an enemy's army, because he wishes to study the enemy's language and system of writing. This book's obsession with manuscripts and languages reminded me of Borges -- the author is tracing the history of the scrolls that had been found in the Thousand Buddha Caves a hundred years ago, that had been buried there a thousand or more years before. Our young student is only a secondary ...more
May 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1959
I enjoyed the story of Tsing-te - how he spent his life, far away from his home in China, out in the frontier lands, both as a soldier and translator. Ultimately, it was his work at hiding and preserving Buddhist scrolls that was most meaningful.

With books like this, part of the enrichment is being able to go online and see pictures of the settings and read about the history of these places and times. Long ago and far away.

The loneliness and brutality of this world of war and death makes it eve
Jun 26, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful and lyrical story about failure, redemption, and expectation; truly understated, which is why I give it three stars (I'm a sucker for high drama). For a book that spends so little time inside its characters' heads, it creates a cast of very vivid personalities: the aging, romantic commander, the impetuous pirate, the forlorn and deserted princess of an exiled tribe. These stories are small, but striking, poignant details in the grand, inevitable textures of history that wash over this ...more
Sep 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I hate Goodreads's definitions of what their rating stars indicate. "Tun-Huang" is a well-written, engaging historical narrative. It wasn't "amazing" (per Goodreads), but it was an excellent book speculating on the persons and events of 1,000 years ago that lead to the preservation of 40,000 Buddhist documents, many of which were unknown until their discovery in a cave of northwestern China about 100 years ago.
Feb 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
While it had its moments and is certainly the only book I've ever read set in this era, so that was interesting, something about this book just didn't fully click for me. I liked the occasional descriptions of the natural world or the smoke over a battle field, but the general business of the book just seemed to plug along with bare recitals of things that happened to the main character. I never felt like I got much of a sense of him as a person. Maybe it was the translation.
Jun 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I liked this despite its very, very deliberate dryness. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I think Inoue used a methodically removed writing style and an almost catatonic protagonist as tools to underline how little our individual goals and desires ultimately affect our contribution to the human race. Is that a Zen Buddhist thing? Feels like it must be.
Daniel Polansky
yeah....uhhhh, so this was three weeks ago and I can only faintly remember it. That's not a great sign I guess. It's about a period of Chinese history which I knew nothing about before reading it, so that's a plus. I admit that apart from that it basically was not of any interest to me. Seems to be highly regarded, so there's a fair chance that I missed what was special about it, but either way.
Ian Billick
A curious book. I didn't really understand where it was going until the very end. It lacks a plot. The main character is interesting, but not really compelling.
Rick K.
Oct 06, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
I liked it. Very interesting.
Jul 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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Wrangler Gunter
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Jun 11, 2014
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Jun 17, 2017
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Feb 14, 2014
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Sep 25, 2016
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Jul 01, 2017
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Robert Dubose
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Aug 08, 2012
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NYRB Classics: Tun-huang, by Yasushi Inoue 1 6 Oct 30, 2013 09:08PM  
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Yasushi Inoue (井上靖) was a Japanese writer whose range of genres included poetry, essays, short fiction, and novels.

Inoue is famous for his serious historical fiction of ancient Japan and the Asian continent, including Wind and Waves, Tun-huang, and Confucius, but his work also included semi-autobiographical novels and short fiction of great humor, pathos, and wisdom like Shirobamba and Asunaro Mo
More about Yasushi Inoue...