A to Z challenge: Xue Xinran

You’re thinking I’m stumped for X, aren’t you? Well guess what? YOU’RE WRONG!

X writers are not as insanely difficult to find if you’re not married to focusing solely on native English speakers. I hit the jackpot when I found double-X Xue Xinran (thank you, Wikipedia!), a Chinese-born journalist who currently lives in the UK. She’s written several books, including her magnum opus, The Good Women of China, which is a nonfictional work chronicling the daily lives of ordinary women during the Cultural Revolution. She’s also written a novel called Miss Chopsticks, which I’m very interested in reading, and a book that you absolutely MUST read called Sky Burial.

Sky Burial is a bit difficult to describe, as it’s termed nonfiction but has distinctly fictional elements to the story. The basic gist is that a Chinese journalist (Xinran) meets a woman who claims she’s a fellow Chinese national who has spent the past 30 years wandering in Tibet in search of her husband. This woman has just returned to China, and briefly describes her story to Xinran. Before Xinran can get the full details, the woman disappears again. Then Xinran writes this book, weaving together what details she has with her speculations about what really happened.

Okay, so if you can handle mixing fact and fiction in this precarious manner, get this: the woman’s husband is responsible for ending the war between Tibet and China. How this happens is basically the story of the book, following Shu Wen across three decades in Tibet, learning all about this decidedly non-Western culture and its people.

It’s an amazingly beautiful book, and a heartbreaking story, but it will also make you think about all the gadgets and conveniences we take for granted in the west. Would you be able to survive in a place like Tibet, without knowing how to speak the language much less fend for yourself in the wilderness? Doubtful, unless you already live in the country and do a lot of your own daily labor.

If you’ve read a lot about Tibet before, maybe all of the cultural differences will be old hat to you. But I still recommend the book, because there are some distinctly Chinese ideas in it, particularly in regard to the Dalai Lama. While we North Americans view him as akin to a saint, his position is certainly much more troubled throughout Asia, and although this isn’t the main point of the book, it brings up some deeper issues that I’m curious to read more about.

This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a while now, so if I can get my hands on any more of Xinran’s books, I will certainly be gobbling them up!

Who’s your favorite X author?