Confession: I initially picked up Sky Burial because I needed an author whose last name started with an “X” (for the A to Z Challenge). I did a little research for some suggestions, and people kept raving about Xinran, so I went with her.
Sky Burial is the true story of a Chinese woman named Shu Wen. After being married for little more than three months, Shu Wen’s husband, a doctor in the People’s Liberation Army, was sent to Tibet in 1958. Two months later, Shu Wen received word that her husband had died in Tibet, but no information was given about the circumstances surrounding his death. Grief-stricken and in denial, Shu Wen, also a doctor, enlists in the army so that she can search for her husband and bring him home. She is convinced that he’s injured and lost, wandering Tibet and trying to find his way back to her. Through a series of events, Shu Wen meets a Chinese-speaking Tibetan woman named Zhouma, who is also in search of her lost love.
It took me a while to get into this book. At first, I was extremely skeptical about all of the events that set Shu Wen on her journey. The thoughts running through my mind probably sounded a lot like, “Come on…WHAT?!…This woman is in serious denial!” Call me a pessimist, but I had a hard time believing that anyone would enlist in the army and go off into the mountains of Tibet in order to find their spouse, much less one who was supposed to be dead!
But somewhere along the way, as I read about Shu Wen’s and Zhouma’s adventures, my cold, cynical heart melted and I found myself completely sucked into the story. The events in the story are so random and inconceivable that it was impossible not to root for her with all my might. Sky Burial is fairly short, so it was very easy to just keep reading until I finished the book! I couldn’t put it down.
The book is classified as nonfiction; Shu Wen told her story to Xinran, a journalist, who then turned her story into this book. As such, it feels a little weird to talk about the book in terms of “characters” and “plot.” On the other hand, it also feels wrong not to talk about it in those terms: the “characters” in the book are incredible; I was repeatedly astounded by the trusting nature and straightforwardness of the Tibetans that Shu Wen encountered. I was also awed by Shu Wen’s naiveté and determination, not to mention the fact that she went to Tibet alone as a young woman who knew nothing of Tibetan language or culture.
It’s hard to properly gush about the book because I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that I’ve never read anything quite like it. I am definitely checking out Xinran’s other work, and I strongly advise you to do the same (starting with Sky Burial, of course)!
Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet was released on July 19, 2005 by Nan A. Talese, an imprint of Random House.