Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was Mass Market Paperback – Apr 12 1985
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Bridge of Birds is a lyrical fantasy novel. Set in "an Ancient China that never was", it stands with The Princess Bride and The Last Unicorn as a fairy tale for all ages, by turns incredibly funny and deeply touching. It won the World Fantasy Award in 1985, and Hughart produced two sequels: The Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen. All present the adventures of Master Kao Li, a scholar with "a slight flaw in [his] character", and Lu Yu, usually called Number Ten Ox, his sidekick and the story's narrator. Number Ten Ox is strong, trusting, and pure of heart; Master Li once sold an emperor shares in a mustard mine, because "I was trying to win a bet concerning the intelligence of emperors."
Number Ten Ox comes from a village in which the children have been struck by a mysterious illness. He recruits Master Li to find the cure and comes along to provide muscle. They seek a mysterious Great Root of Power, which may be a form of ginseng. Of course, nothing turns out to be as simple as it seems; great wrongs must be avenged and lovers separated must be reunited, from the most humble to the highest. And even in the midst of cosmic glory, Pawnbroker Fang and Ma the Grub are picking the pockets of their own lynch mob, who are frozen in awe and wonder. --Nona Vero
Top Customer Reviews
BRIDGE OF BIRDS was author Barry Hughart's first novel and it does start a bit slowly. Once it gets going, however, it becomes a fascinating adventure, a humorous story, and a thoughtful look at humanity and human obsession. It took me days to get through this book, not because it isn't interesting, but because it is so full. It took me a bit of recovery time to launch myself into the next adventure. By the way, there's also a bit of a mystery. See if you can figure it out before Li Kao and Ten Ox.
Hughart creates a different kind of fantasy. The protagonists aren't powerful warriors, but a peasant and an alcoholic sage. Their quest doesn't start out as saving the world from evil, but saving some children from the evil acts of a couple of misers. But the book's subtle power sucked me in, made me care about the characters and the story, and made me think that I was actually seeing something about the world for the first time.
Too heavy? Okay, the book is also a laugh. It's a series of unfortunate events in an adult style. I like this book a lot.
Ostensibly this is a book about Lu Yu, nicknamed Number Ten Ox, who travels from his rural town to the big city to engage a wise man to return with him and cure the village's children of a deadly sleeping sickness (fortunately the sickness is not so deadly that the heros cannot fart around for a year or so before actually helping the sick children). The only wise man willing to work for the paltry sum offered by Number 10 Ox is Li Kao, a twinkly-eyed old drunk who has the perplexing ability to con anyone out of vast sums of money (putting into question his insistence on sleeping on the floor in a dirty old tenement in the first place). The cure takes the two on a romp through a mythical old China peopled with the kind of moronic rubes found in all fairy tales - those greedy and stupid enough to hand over their money just because someone tells them they'll be receiving some magic beans and a donkey that poops gold coins.
Hughart stretches this hoary old chestnut within an inch of its elasticity as Master Li and Ox wander from city to city collecting bits of the Great Root of Power in order to effect the cure. But at times it appears that the only real purpose in doing all this traveling is to get Number 10 Ox laid, for he winds up in bed with a woman in every town.Read more ›
Reviewed by Randy Farnsworth, author of "A Stand Yet Taken".
This was a very fun book to read. It's not a literary masterpiece with deep meanings that your English Literature professor will ask you to dissect; it's just an enjoyable romp around ancient China with a cast of eccentric characters.
Hughart has a way of mixing fact, history and folklore with his own fiction that produces a very credible tale. He really has a grasp on Chinese culture and traditions. I truly respect a writer that is willing to do so much research prior to penning a manuscript. I think this is very much written for a Western audience. Having a limited background in Sinology myself, I wonder how a Chinese reader would accept this - especially if it is translated into Chinese, which would cause the reader to loose much of the English plays on words.
As for his writing style, there is a great deal of subtle humor along with overt comedic scenes. I found myself laughing out loud at the balloon flatulence scene, as sophomoric as it was. However, some of the writing is so fast-paced that I had to re-read several sections to figure out what had happened.
The story is a bit crude in parts, so I wouldn't recommend it for younger children. The characters seem to have a great fixation with sex. That adds to their eccentricity, but I don't feel it really adds to the story much. But the conclusion of the book is written in a very heartwarming and sensitive way - one of those where you put the book down after the last page, take a deep breath, and thank the author for taking you on a pleasurable journey.
Bridge of Birds is a fantasy tale of Li Kao's and Number Ten Ox's quest for the Great Root of Power to save the village's children who are dying from a mysterious illness. Like Odysseus' journey home their trek traverses the breadth and depth of China's mythical landscape and folklore while engaging some of the most fascinating, humorous and irresistible characters along the way. Throw in a wonderful ending and you have a complete novel that radiates charm, wit, humor and a range of human emotions. Kudos to author Barry Hughart whose marvelous penmanship kept the characters and the plot flowing in a seamless manner.
It is a real pity that this fantastic novel hasn't found a wider audience. Perhaps with some luck Bridge of Birds will experience a much deserved revival that will keep it from vanishing off library and bookstore shelves. Meanwhile, read it for yourself and you, too, will earnestly recommend it to all your friends as I have.
Most recent customer reviews
What a fun surprise!
Has me laughing out loud, something I wasn't expecting.
Much like Connie Willis' "To Say Nothing of the Dog" (but also so very much not alike!) it has everything: humour, suspense, charm, mystery, fantasy ... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Ashley Lambert-Maberly
The mix of ancient Chinese culture and ways of thinking come through in a fascinating way. So very enjoyable a read. I couldn't put it down.Published on Oct. 21 2013 by Cameron Taylor
I go all over the Internet looking at reviews of this book. (Yeah, I do happen to have way too much time on my hands. Read morePublished on June 21 2004 by Jim-bob Furlbottom
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart is a modestly entertaining novel, by turns amusing and dull as a textbook. Read morePublished on June 17 2004 by Patrick Burnett
Admittedly, I picked this book up because I liked the cover. I had never heard of it, or Barry Hughart before, but I proceeded to read it within a couple months and I was very... Read morePublished on May 15 2004 by Kaila
One of my friends raved about BRIDGE OF BIRDS. She kept telling me I had to read it, but I kept putting it off as fantasy is not really my cup of tea. Read morePublished on Feb. 20 2004 by Totally Anonymous
I have read this book this winter break. I tried to read it a year ago and it seemed kind of childish and boring, however, as I started reading more I realized how mistaken I was... Read morePublished on Jan. 15 2004 by Mr.Chunky Monkey