Sophie Dusting's Reviews > Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet

Sky Burial by Xinran
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's review
Apr 01, 2012

really liked it
Read in October, 2011

** spoiler alert ** Synopsis:

"I was a young woman in love," she [Shu Wen] said. "I did not think about what I might be facing. I just wanted to find my husband." (Pg.4)

Xinran, a renowned Chinease journalist had heard of the legend of Sky Burial - a Chinease soldier had been fed to vultures in the mountains of Tibet, in a ritual known as Sky Burial. Xinran was contacted by a radio listener about a woman called Shu Wen; they met for two days at a hotel in Suzhuo, where Wen recounted her extraordinary life story.

Kenjun, the husband of Wen, was a surgeon in the Chinease army and was deployed in Tibet during the Chinease and Tibetan political stife, just three weeks after their wedding. Less than a hundred days later, Wen received notice that Kenjun had died; the body had not been found. Despite the advice of all those around her, Wen embarked on a remarkable journey to discover the fate of her husband and to reunited with him for the final farewell.

For thirty years, Wen continued her voyage, travelling the Tibetan plateaux and mountain ranges, following the seasons and nomadic communities whilst trying to keep her husband's memory alive. In a period of political tension, an unlikely bond sealed the relationship of Tibetan communities and Chinease soldiers - the hunt of Kejun.

Finally word reached a Tibetan monk, Old Hermit Qiangba. This monk had kept Kejun's last journal and recalled accounts that documented Kejun's final days. The secret of the Sky Burial is at long last revealed, leaving both Kejun and Wen to rest in peace.

Overall Review: 4* (Read it)

Xinran has rather wonderfully illustrated a tale of survival, love and adventure. The book articulates Shu Wen's journey, with the narrative alternating between the author's interview questions and Wen's responses with pure beauty. The descriptions are concise and the use of language acted like a painbrush in my mind, crafting the image of the glorious Tibetan landscape and communities.

Technically, the plot is well structured, recalling the critical events that shaped Wen's quest rather than padding out the plot with overly-long description and dialogue. As a result, the pace is quick; recounting 30 years of someone's life in just 159 pages, it's guaranteed to be snappy. The plot is solely about Wen's life and it makes for a gripping and incredibly moving read. However, other characters drop in and out fleetingly, mirroring Wen's real-life meeting with them. I would have liked some characters to be more developed.

The idea of Sky Burial is new – as a reader, especially coming from the West, I had not come across the practice before. The theme of travelling far and wide to find something or someone is not new; it is the basic framework for any voyage plot. Another theme in the story is the Tibetan and Chinese struggles. As a reader, I wander if there is a political message or if the author has manipulated Wen’s tale, though I do doubt that point. This is just one account portraying the Tibetan resistance as savage and the Chinese revolutionary cause as just. Thus you can’t really judge for yourself how you feel about the war between the two countries on such a limited source base.

Overall what makes this book stand out, it the eternal love and friendship between Kenjun and Wen –it is one that I think almost all of us would wish to experience in our lives. At the end of the book is a letter from the author to Wen asking if they can meet again; since their meeting, they had never been in contact. I can’t help but wonder where she is now.

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