Saturday, July 12, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Sky Burial by Xinran

Sky Burial is Xinran's telling of Shu Wen's story of the thirty year search for her husband in Tibet. Shu Wen was only married to her husband for 3 weeks when he was called up to serve as a doctor in the People's Liberation Army. After only 100 days of marriage, Shu Wen received notice that her husband had died in Tibet. She was given no details and what she had been told led her to doubt that he was really dead. Shu Wen was herself a doctor and so she joined the army in order to get into Tibet with the hope of finding her husband. This dedicated woman spent 30 years in Tibet before she learned her husband's fate. Sky Burial is truly a love story unlike any I've ever read before. It is made more amazing by its veracity.

The sense of place and people in Sky Burial left a great impression on me. The immense landscape, and the isolation and intense spirituality of the nomadic people with whom Shu Wen lived out her years in Tibet, were a striking part of the story. I was also struck by the timelessness of the vast spaces and hardy people. That lack of time sense was a bit disconcerting to my Western mindset, but perhaps it is more reflective of the place and people than I might comprehend from my own compartmentalized life. Counting days on a calendar, or even counting seasons, would seem irrelevant in a life that needs to be lived in the present. Sky Burial provides no markers to let the reader know just how long Shu Wen was in Tibet but for her own statement that she had been in that country for 30 years.

The isolation of the Tibetan people and the vast spaces in which they lived would seem a hindrance for finding someone and gaining information, but this was not so. I was astonished that Shu Wen was able to learn her husband's fate and receive his last words in such an environment. Contrast that with her return to modern China to her family neighborhood. No one was able to provide Shu Wen with any information as to the location or fate of her parents and sister. The neighborhood itself had been razed and rebuilt 3 times in a decade and the residents had no history with the place nor the people.

Overall I found this a fascinating look into the life of a very dedicated woman and into a culture with which I have little familiarity.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

If you are interested in world music, I would suggest Sister Drum by Dadawa as a companion to your reading of Sky Burial. See my recent post about Sister Drum if interested.

Note to other reviewers: If you've written a review for this book, please let me know by posting the permanent URL for your review in the comments. I'll be happy to add a link to your review with my post.

Also reviewed at:
Thoughts of Joy
Bart's Bookshelf


  1. This sounds like an interesting book, Terri. I haven't read too many books set in Tibet. Sky Burial sounds haunting. I will have to add it to my wish list. Great review!

  2. Like Lit Feline I'm not all that familiar with Tibet (except the Brad Pitt movie years ago...). Sounds like a really beautiful book--thanks for the review!