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Booklog: Silk Road by Jeanne Larsen

Silk Road: A Novel of Eighth-Century China by Jeanne Larsen

Silk Road is a beautifully written, richly descriptive, meandering story of a young woman who is trying to find her family and who, along the way, finds her own power. It weaves together history, story, mythology, and poetry. Interspersed with the story (the chapters named "Parrot Speaks") are a number of fragmentary 8th-century Chinese texts, translated by the author, along with prose poems that address the reader directly.

The story itself and its writing style kinda scratched the same itch for me that Little Big by John Crowley does. I'm failing to come up with the right words to describe the similarities, though.

In Silk Road's descriptions of the life of a courtesan I am reminded a bit of the popular Memoirs of a Geisha (which was written quite a while later). But Memoirs of a Geisha is in the end a thoroughly conventional romance novel. Silk Road isn't conventional and isn't a romance-genre novel at all.

I don't know very much about Chinese culture, history, or mythology, except what I learn from watching Yimou Zhang (House of Flying Daggers) and Jet Li movies. I expect people who know more about those things would get more out of this book.

Finally, I'm going to describe how I found out about this book, because it amuses me. I am involved with a Buddhist sangha called Insight Meditation Center. A frequent guest speaker at this sangha is Thanissaro Bhikkhu, abbot of Metta Forest Monastery in California. I really like his dharma talks. So I was reading about him on the Web one day and I came across this interview with him in the Oberlin alumni magazine:
http://www.oberlin.edu/alummag/spring2004/feat_monk.html
In the interview, he was asked whether he reads for pleasure and he said that the only fiction he reads is Jeanne Larsen and Harry Potter. That seemed like a good reason for me to check out Jeanne Larsen's books.

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Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
slothman
Nov. 15th, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC)
Have you tried Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds?
firecat
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:03 am (UTC)
Not yet but I think it's been recommended to me before, so eventually I will.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 9th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
Silk Road & others
Thanks, Firecat. I'm glad you liked my book. Maybe you'd enjoy the other two (yeah, this is a total plug) in that trilogy--Bronze Mirror and Manchu Palaces. They are stand-alones, really, set in different dynasties. But I suppose they arise inter-dependently.

Maybe we'll cross paths at IMS someday... Jeanne Larsen
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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