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Sky Burial [Paperback]

4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 July 2005

As a young girl in China Xinran heard a rumour about a soldier in Tibet who had been brutally fed to the vultures in a ritual known as a sky burial: the tale frightened and fascinated her. Several decades later Xinran met Shu Wan, a Chinese woman who had spent years searching for her missing husband who had been serving as a doctor in Tibet; her extraordinary life story would unravel the legend of the sky burial. For thirty years she was lost in the wild and alien landscape of Tibet, in the vast and silent plateaus and the magisterial mountain ranges, living with communities of nomads moving with the seasons and struggling to survive.

In this haunting book, Xinran recreates Shu Wen's remarkable journey in an epic story of love, loss, loyalty and survival. Moving, shocking and, ultimately, uplifting Sky Burial paints a unique portrait of a woman and a land, both at the mercy of fate and politics.

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Sky Burial + The Good Women Of China: Hidden Voices + Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love
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Product details

  • Paperback: 164 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (7 July 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099461935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099461937
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 37,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

In the world of fiction reviewing, extraordinary is an over-used word. Yet there really is no other way to describe Chinese author Xinran's second book, Sky Burial. It is extraordinary in so many ways--the subject matter, the setting, the central character, but mostly its authenticity and the author's continuing search for the woman whose life is told here.

Sky Burial is the true story of a Chinese woman's 30-year search through Tibet for news of her lost, presumed dead, husband. Xinran is working as a radio journalist on a women's programme when a listener calls in to tell her about Shuwen. Xinran travels hundreds of miles across China to interview her and, over two days, Shuwen opens her heart and reveals her tragic, scarcely imaginable life story. Xinran returns to her life and spends the subsequent 10 years trying to find Shuwen again, researching her story and writing this book--a homage to an ordinary woman's extraordinary life-long search for the truth.

The story is a simple one: Shuwen meets her intelligent, idealistic husband-to-be while they are both training to be doctors. After less than 100 days of marriage, Kejun travels to Tibet as a Chinese army doctor and before long, Shuwen is notified that he has died in an "incident". Shuwen decides to join the army herself, travel to Tibet and find out if he really is dead, and if so, how and why he died.

And then, as if travelling to a closed country like Tibet as a young woman in the 1950s is not difficult enough, Shuwen quickly becomes separated from her unit and, close to death herself, is taken in by a family of Tibetan nomads. Her transformation from Chinese doctor to nomadic Buddhist is a long, painful and at many turns, deeply distressing one.

Sky Burial is a slight book--little more than an extended short story--and yet the ground it covers is immense, not just because of the fascinating glimpse it offers into a land and a people still largely unknown in the West. Despite its tragic themes of loss and survival in one of the world's harshest landscapes, it is an uplifting tale of unwavering loyalty and immeasurable inner strength. --Carey Green --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"A romantic epic of loss and redemption, of stoic constancy in the face of the vagaries of fate" (Financial Times)

"Part family story, part mystical adventure in an alien culture, it's like Wild Swans crossed with Seven Years in Tibet" (Condé Nast Traveller)

"This little-known culture has been brought vividly to life through the incredible love story of Shu Wen. This story of an extraordinary woman written by an extraordinary woman will stay with you long after closing the book" (Sunday Times)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly haunting and unforgettable 23 July 2004
If 'Sky Burial' was not a true story, I would have dismissed it as magical fable. Indeed, the story itself is amazing. It details a Chinese army doctor's (Shuwen) journey into Tibet in search of her husband, whom the army claims to be dead. Whilst in Tibet, she gets separated from her army unit together with a Tibetan 'princess' whom she saved from getting killed by her fellow Chinese troops. They are taken in by a Nomad family where Shuwen slowly adjusts to the Tibetan way of life. After several years, Shuwen faces another loss as the Tibetan 'princess', who has helped to bridge the cultural gap between her and the Nomad family, is kidnapped. After several more years of experiencing and learning how to survive the harsh Tibetan terrain, she finally sets off to search for her husband. The story unravels with it haunting customs which are incomprehensible until when you reach the end of the book. I stayed up until 3.00am reading this book until the end, partly because I didn't want to get nightmares and partly because it was so moving. You will definitely need a box of tissues. Shuwen's story is amazingly haunting and unforgettable.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, astonishing, and remarkable. 2 Jan 2006
By M. S. Bowden VINE VOICE
'Sky Burial' is an astounding and remarkable tale and follows hot on the heels of Xinran's first book 'The Good Women of China'. It is a story of love, adventure, loss, friendship, and belonging. It is a true emotional roller-coaster which will, I daresay, not fail to have a profound effect upon most readers.
Xinran wrote 'Sky Burial' after a two-day-long conversation with the subject of the story, Shu Wen. Wen left her home town of Suzhou, in the east of China, for Tibet in the mid-1950s in order to discover what had happened to her husband, Kejun, who had been sent there as a doctor in the People's Liberation Army. Wen travels to this vast, distant land as a brave but somewhat naive twenty-six year old Han Chinese woman and returns some three decades later a profoundly different person, having been transformed by time and circumstances into a Tibetan Buddhist nomad.
It is unsurprising, having read this book, that Xinran felt an intense desire to tell the world Shu Wen's story. Indeed, Shu Wen's story has, according to Xinran, been one of the three greatest lessons of her life. It will no doubt inspire many other readers with what one may interpet as its main message: that one should never lose hope.
The book is also interesting on a number of other levels. Firstly, it is a lesson on cultural exchange; what happens when is thrown into a culture completely alien to their own. The first section of the book explores how acts and beliefs which at first appear barbaric to Shu Wen come to make sense with the passage of time and when explained in their proper cultural context. Secondly, the story is interesting for the insight it provides into the life of Tibetan nomads in particular and Tibetan culture in general.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lost in Tibet 14 Sep 2004
This isn't usually the sort of book which would appeal to me. I bought this book primarily because i had read another book on Tibet recently which fascinated me and i wanted to know more. This book is interesting in that it tells the true story of a Chinese woman in Tibet, and gives the reader a real insight into Tibetan life from a Chinese perspective. Shu Wen enters Tibet in the 1950's in order to look for her young husband, an army doctor who she has been told died in an incident. She cannot imagine at this point that she will end up spending 30 years in Tibet searching for him. What i found refreshing is that it's not complicated to read and it steers clear of political arguments, in fact you don't even really need to know much Chinese or Tibetan history to get into the story as it is first and foremost a story about love, loss and the strength of the human spirit told on a very personal level. Shu Wen's story really is remarkable and the author Xinran has done a superb job in condensing her life story into such a short and engaging read, i think i would have struggled to read a thicker book on the subject purely because it has such hard lessons to relate to us and is quite emotionally draining. The ending left me needing to know more about Shu Wen and her return to China, and for this reason i hope that Xinran is able to catch up with her again and bring us a final instalment.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poetic, haunting and a fascinating insight 21 Sep 2005
Following the 30 year hunt for her husband by a Chinese woman stranded in Tibet, the story not only paints a wonderful picture of a person driven by a single goal but also of the Tibettan nomad's way of life.
And it is a gripping, concise storyline as well, reflecting on the conflict between the two nations, the absorption of Tibet into China and the exile of the Dalia Lama. Most of which had minimal affect at the time on the nomadic people.
Amazingly it is also true. Like the author, I felt I really need to know what finally happened to the woman ShuWen.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going west into Tibet 14 July 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A different perspective on Tibet, seeing it from the perspective of someone in China who lives relatively close to Tibet but knows little about it.
Seeing the portions of Tibet you mostly don't hear about, the life of the nomads where two brothers can be married to the same women (rather like the Hindu epic Mahabharata, though the link is not made).
We see the perspective from someone without power or connections, moved by love in a very human drama. You have a fair indication from the begining how it will end, but you go on wondering. And getting an insight into a very alien world-view.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Quite possibly the most gripping factual book I have ever read
Published 25 days ago by Martin Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and Enlightening
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Well written and absorbing with insights into the Tibetan way of life.
It was lent to me by a friend and I just had to get a copy of my own. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Textile Figure Artist
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read
Worth a read - quite short and easy to read if you don't want anything too taxing. Good story too, quite sad.
Published 7 months ago by Miss M Rea
5.0 out of 5 stars Sky Burial
This is a lovely book. Very poignant story. Beautifully written, and I felt as if I was getting a real view of the lives of nomadic people in Tibet, as well as a glimpse of the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by C. Couchman
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
This book had been highly recommended to me and I wanted to get a copy quickly. It was not available from a book shop and so I ordered it on Amazon. Read more
Published 7 months ago by maxine rose
4.0 out of 5 stars an enlightening read
I enjoyed this book. It was tense and arduous at times but really allowed me to step into the main character's shoes and feel her struggle. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jane
5.0 out of 5 stars like new
lovely book and ready for bookclub in the new year . Great to be able to quickly purchase books at such a low cost and in such good condition
Published 9 months ago by betty robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Sky Burial
I just though it was a wonderful story about a chinese woman in her quest to find the husband she had lost. Very thought provoking
Published 11 months ago by Mrs V A Dashwood
5.0 out of 5 stars loved this book
I could not put this book down fantastic just wish there had been more detail but of course the author wasn't able to get any more I would recommend this book to every one. Read more
Published 14 months ago by carol
5.0 out of 5 stars A book you live, rather than read
Sky Burial is a heartfelt journey into Tibet that is in some ways more soulful than an actual journey there (speaking as someone who has been). Read more
Published 15 months ago by A. J. Smith
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