Summary and book reviews of Sky Burial by Xue Xinran

Sky Burial

An Epic Love Story of Tibet

by Xue Xinran

Sky Burial
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2005, 220 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2006, 224 pages

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Book Summary

An extraordinary portrait of a woman and the land of Tibet, each at the mercy of fate and politics. It is an unforgettable, ultimately uplifting tale of love loss, loyalty, and survival.

It was 1994 when Xinran, a journalist and the author of The Good Women of China, received a telephone call asking her to travel four hours to meet an oddly dressed woman who had just crossed the border from Tibet into China. Xinran made the trip and met the woman, called Shu Wen, who recounted the story of her thirty-year odyssey in the vast landscape of Tibet.

Shu Wen and her husband had been married for only a few months in the 1950s when he joined the Chinese army and was sent to Tibet for the purpose of unification of the two countries. Shortly after he left she was notified that he had been killed, although no details were given. Determined to find the truth, Shu Wen joined a militia unit going to the Tibetan north, where she soon was separated from the regiment. Without supplies and knowledge of the language, she wandered, trying to find her way until, on the brink of death, she was rescued by a family of nomads under whose protection she moved from place to place with the seasons and eventually came to discover the details of her husband's death.

In the haunting Sky Burial, Xinran has recreated Shu Wen's journey, writing beautifully and simply of the silence and the emptiness in which Shu Wen was enveloped. The book is an extraordinary portrait of a woman and a land, each at the mercy of fate and politics. It is an unforgettable, ultimately uplifting tale of love loss, loyalty, and survival.

Translated by Esther Tyldesley and Julia Lovell.

1
Shu Wen


Her inscrutable eyes looked past me at the world outside the window--the crowded street, the noisy traffic, the regimented lines of modern tower blocks. What could she see there that held such interest? I tried to draw her attention back.

"How long were you in Tibet?"

"More than thirty years," she said softly.

"Thirty years! But why did you go there? For what?"

"For love," she answered simply, again looking far beyond me at the empty sky outside.

"For love?"

"My husband was a doctor in the People's Liberation Army. His unit was sent to Tibet. Two months later, I received notification that he had been lost in action. We had been married for less than a hundred days.

"I refused to accept that he was dead," she continued. "No one at the military headquarters could tell me anything about how he had died. The only thing I could think of was to go to Tibet myself and find ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
From Xinran, the bestselling author of The Good Women of China, comes Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet a deeply affecting tale about a woman's thirty-year search for her husband in the isolated, hauntingly beautiful land of Tibet.

Written with lyrical eloquence, Sky Burial is many things at once--a love story, a mystery and a tale of adventure. The following questions were written to help you and your reading group explore all the different themes of this fascinating tale.

Discussion Questions
  1. What is a 'Sky Burial'? How does this differ from the traditional Western burial methods?

  2. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

For eight groundbreaking years, Xinran presented a nightly radio programme in China called "Words on the Night Breeze", during which she invited women to call in and talk about themselves. Her first book, The Good Women of China, is the story of how she reached out to women across the country, despite the restrictions imposed on Chinese journalists. She reveals stories of inconceivable suffering; forced marriages, sexual abuse, repression...Yet above all her stories reveal how love survives; that despite cruelty, despite politics, the female urge to nurture and cherish remains - Sky Burial is a novelization of one of the stories she was told.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (337 words).

Media Reviews

The New York Times - Ada Calhoun

While she is shocked by Tibetan customs...she is far more startled by the political upheaval she discovers upon her return to China in the early 1990's. Even at the end of her journey she finds no real peace, and her story is heartwrenching from beginning to end.

Publishers Weekly

Woven through with fascinating details of Tibetan culture and Buddhism, Xinran's story portrays a poignant, beautiful attempt at reconciliation.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

In crystalline prose as measured as the breath of a yogi, Xinran perfectly renders the emotional evolution of a mourning woman alone in a mysterious land, and gorgeously evokes the vast and timeless grandeur of Tibet, the physically arduous yet spiritually resonant lives of Tibetans, and the transforming power of love.

Library Journal - Shirley N. Quan

Genuinely moving and fast-paced, this smooth translation will give readers a taste of Tibetan culture; the story should appeal to a wide audience and will especially resonate with those who have ever personally set off in search of a lost loved one. Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

A picaresque fairy tale with elements of National Geographic, but also lovely, spare and mystical.

Financial Times

A romantic epic of loss and redemption, of stoic constancy in the face of the vagaries of fate.

The Guardian - Giles Foden

Part family story, part mystical adventure. It's like Wild Swans crossed with Seven Years in Tibet.

Sunday Times

This story of one extraordinary woman written by another extraordinary woman will stay with you long after closing the book.

Author Blurb Da Chen
I read Sky Burial in one sitting, not being able to wait to get to the end of the tale. I've read love stories before, but none like this. One could only wish to be loved so, or, even better, to love so.

Reader Reviews

Kdee

Highly recommended
Sky Burial is a wonderfully emotional story, rich in Tibetan custom. Part war story, mystery, rich in spirituality, Sky Burial begins and ends as an epic love story that will amaze as well as tear at your heart long after you have finished your ...   Read More

Lindsay

Loved it
I read this book so quickly and was so disappointed when it ended. Now I'm looking to know if there will be a follow up on Shu Wen.

Jo

Unsatisfied
As a year 12 student sky Burial has been put on my English list to be studied. I was not was thrilled to have it there, but after putting it off too long I decided to read it. I read it in one sitting, not because I couldn't put in down, but because ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

About Tibet
With an average elevation of 14-16,000 feet (sources differ), it's the highest nation on earth (by comparison, the highest mountain in the 48 contiguous states is Mt. Whitney at 14,494 feet)

Five of Asia's great rivers including the Indus, Mekong and Brahmaputra have their headwaters in Tibet.

Nearly half the world's population lives downstream from Tibet.

Tibet's unique ecosystem is home to many rare species including the snow leopard, blue ...

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