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Review: Tun-Huang, by Yasushi Inoue


Pages: 201
Original date of publication: 1959
My edition: 2010 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read: it’s on the list of NYRBs
How I acquired my copy: Borders, March 2011


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.

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