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am 19. September 2000
"Bridge of Birds" is the most effective, most moving fantasy novel I have read since John Crowley's "Engine Summer." Set in (to use the publisher's blurb) "an ancient China that never was," this is at least on the surface the tale of Number Ten Ox, a young man from a rural village who sets out with Master Li, a scholar and sage with "a slight flaw in his character," on a quest for the "great root of power," the only medicine of sufficient potency to cure the village children of a case of ku poisoning. As the story unfolds and these two characters experience adventures enough to fill many novels (one can imagine Tor or some other publisher spinning out these yarns by the tens a la Conan if they got a hold of the publishing rights), their quest begins to intertwine with another one, relating to an ancient wrong done to a goddess.
More details would be superfluous, for there is simply no substitute for reading this book. The culture and characters described here are fully realized (writers of doorstop-sized fantasy novels, such as Robert Jordan, could take object lessons from Hughart in how to tell a large story succinctly), and the overall atmosphere that this novel achieves is that of the finest kind of fable, although I would not necessarily recommend it for young children. Hughart spices his narrative throughout with a liberal dose of humor; I found myself laughing aloud many times as I read along. If there is a flaw to be found here, I failed to see it. This is as good as fantasy gets--one of the few novels that merits the adjective "magical."
0Kommentar| 4 Personen fanden diese Informationen hilfreich. War diese Rezension für Sie hilfreich?JaNeinMissbrauch melden
am 28. Dezember 2004
Fantasy with a touch of humour is uncommon. There are two excellent writers who have carved a significant niche in the fantasy field. Terry Pratchett is one, and Barry Hughart the other. Both have inventive minds, produce wonderfully exotic places and introduce us to characters no "mainstream" author would dare venture. Where Pratchett creates new places, Hughart devises a time that "never was" in a real place - China. This story of an imaginary China has every exemplary feature in fantasy - mystery, adventure, romance. It adds to these formulaic items a cast even Hollywood would be pressed to match. And, in twenty years since this book was published, has notably failed to do so. Perhaps it's just as well, because Hughart's excellence in story and character would be hard to portray in Hollywood terms.

Hughart's tale of a quest to find a cure surpasses anything in the fantasy genre. A group of village children, limited in age range, has been struck down by a plague. "How can a plague count?" asks the local abbot. The children aren't dead, but in a coma. Perhaps a knowledgeable man would know of a cure. Lu Yu, "Number Ten Ox", the strong tenth son of a peasant, is sent to find such a sage. He turns up Li Kao, a venerable sage "with a slight flaw in his character". We think the "slight flaw" is his thirst for wine, but that proves too simple.

Number Ten Ox carries Li Kao to various places in China seeking the Great Root of Power - a ginseng root endowed with great curative traits. Along the way, the duo encounter the Ancestress, an immense woman of immense powers of her own. They deal with the mind-reading Duke of Ch'in, whose name was adopted by the West to describe all of China. Some lesser characters, Miser Chen, Henpecked Ho, and Doctor Death make their appearances, seemingly transitory. And Number Ten Ox falls in love. He adores the lady Lotus Cloud who has a bizarre preference for lovers that provide her with jade and pearls.

Through all the adventures, no few of which are more than life-threatening, Number Ten Ox carries the image of the suffering children in his mind. It would be simple for him to turn away from the memory of their sleeping figures, but Ox is true to the quest. So long as he maintains his desire to cure them, Li Kao is retained to help. But it's far from clear which is driving which, since the Venerable Sage has developed his own quest - what is the meaning of a child's game verse? How does it affect all of China? Li Kao's drive for answers readily equals Ox's search for a cure for the plague.

Hughart's stylistic quirks and sinuous plotting twists keeps this book a enchanting read. He places his protagonists in various quandaries, confronting them with dangers and delights. Li Kao's wine-sodden brain should leave him helpless, but he contrives to extricate the pair with penetrating analyses of each threat. At the end, when he must unravel the most fundamental mystery, what The Bridge of Birds is, he's more concerned with why he couldn't work out the solution sooner. But if he had, there wouldn't be a fine 278 page sequence to enjoy! [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

* with apologies and thanks to Janet Turner Hospital
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am 14. Juli 1997
I can think of no other book that has given me as much laughter, tears, wonderment and sustained entertainment as "Bridge of Birds."
I have the book in HARDBACK - - aren't I lucky - - having found it in 1984, quite by accident. I lend this book to no one! It's my personal treasure. If my house were burning, I'd grab my husband, son and then my copy of "Bridge of Birds." I love it that much.
I write reviews for a local newspaper and recommend it each spring when I write my "Top Ten Best Books" list.
The story follows Number Ten Ox and Li Kao (an ancient gentlemen with "a slight flaw in his character") through China as they search for the secret to breaking an evil spell that has been cast on Number Ten Ox's village. Intertwined with the quest for the potion is a heart-breaking tale of the Princess of Birds, her beloved Shepherd of the Stars and three faithless handmaidens.
I've read the book dozens and dozens of times and I find myself falling under Li Kao' s spell each time.....I LOVE THIS BOOK and recommend it without reservations. When the birds begin to build the bridge from earth to the stars, I weep. I'm so happy for the children in Number Ten Ox's village, for the Princess of Birds, for Henpecked Ho, for Doctor Death, and for Number Ten Ox and Li Kao, but most of all, I'm happy to have found such an enchanting piece of literature. I will treasure it always
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am 2. April 1999
I don't know exactly what it is that makes Bridge of Birds and its two sequels such enduring favourites of mine. I keep coming back to them again and again, and for someone who reads several books a week this is quite a commitment. I discovered them while working at Forbidden Planet in London, and read them while the customers could go to hell as far as I was concerned. Since then they've been one of my first ports of call whenever I'm tired or depressed. Literally they are like a breath of fresh air, reminding you in a few short paragraphs what's right with the world.
Bridge of Birds is the best of the three, in my opinion. It is the simplest in terms of plot, and you just can't beat the thrill of meeting the characters for the first time. Hughart's style evolved through the books, and I think that objectively (if one can say that about a book) he's a better writer by Eight Skilled Gentlemen - but Bridge of Birds shows the real feeling and humanity that goes into his storytelling. The story of Miser Shen and Ah Chen - listening to Miser Shen's speech about his daughter is genuinely moving in an understated way that is totally at odds with the usual histrionics of most modern fantasy. Ditto the madness of Doctor Death. Most writers are content to let their characters languish behind cliche, but Hughart is determined to show that behind everyone is a personality that is more complex than outward show would suggest - even fairly unimportant characters such as the merchant have hidden depths.
Most fantasy - in fact almost all of it - is devoid of wit, drama, character depth and humanity. It gives "escapism" a bad name. These books have all the above qualities which makes the fantastic elements of the stories that much more interesting. Reading Bridge of Birds gives one a similar feeling to reading The Lord Of The Rings - on a different scale - that thrill and sense of being part of the world, drawn in by characters as interesting and unpredictable as real people.
Buy these books if you ever get the opportunity. Your life will be richer thereby. Should we, as has been hinted by others here, start an active petition to get more of his work out there?
0Kommentar| Eine Person fand diese Informationen hilfreich. War diese Rezension für Sie hilfreich?JaNeinMissbrauch melden
Today I started radiation treatments; the cancer has metastasized from my remaining lung to my brain. Tonight I finished rereading Bridge Of Birds.
There are tears of joy in my eyes again, and a smile that stretches like the moon on my face. I've burst out laughing at least once a day since I returned to the Ancient China That Never Was. Not an escape from, but a release through, Life.
And I had forgotten such beautiful little things here: the black pearl with the white star, and Pawnbroker Fang's mother the cow, and how "the moon was playing tag with fingers of cloud", and a trail of honey. Not to mention Mouse, and Ah Chen, and Doctor Death, and Henpecked Ho, and (with a surprising nod to Damon Runyon) the "major-domo" named Liverlips Loo.
Believe me, and the rest of us here. BUY THIS BOOK. Buy two copies, because you will lend it, and it won't come back. This is one of those wonderful surprises that you will hold to your heart forever. Follow the dragon, and the birds will fly..
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am 13. August 1996
This is the first in a series of fantasies set in Ancient China.
The next in the series is called "Story of a Stone", and the
third is called "Eight Skilled Gentlemen". I recommend these
books, and particularly "Bridge of Birds", to my friends and fellow
book-lovers at every opportunity.

Mr. Hughart's outlandish plots are hilarious; many of his comedic
methods remind me of Voltaire's "Candide". However, this is no
political satire. It is a mystery which retains a high level of
suspense despite its ability to make the reader laugh out loud on
practically every page.

Ultimately, its humor and its gripping plot are simply supports
for its true theme -- a touching and optimistic examination of
the human condition.

I cannot recommend this author strongly enough. I hope he is
still writing!
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am 5. April 1999
Forget that this book is catagorized as "fantasy." It never occurred to me that I was reading anything but fabulous fiction.
I am Master Li's number one fan. Unabashedly, wholeheartedly, and sincerely. There is not another book on this planet that moves me -- in all directions -- as this one.
I found this book right after it was published when a friend sent it to me and insisted that I read it. From the very first line, I was hooked.
I've since read the other two Master Li tales and loved, them, but not like "BoB." The story never lets me down, despite my repeated readings.
I have all three stories in hardback and my copy of "BoB" has been signed by the very gracious Hughart himself. (He's in Yahoo! People Find in Tucson, AZ)
I'm interested in mounting an email campaign to paperback publishers for "More Master Li," as I believe there are enough of the faithful out here in cyberspace to support more stories.
If you want the best that writing has to offer, read this book...share it with your friends...re-read it and continue to share it with your friends. You -- and they -- will be richer for it!
One last wish...may you always know someone with a slight flaw in their character!
Buy this book!
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am 23. Januar 1998
One of the more difficult literary tricks is to write Oriental fantasy in the grand style: a mixture of adventure, folklore, sociology, ancient history (even if imaginary) and just plain fun. Not many wirters can pull this off successfully. Some have, of course. Frank Owen's The Pocelain Magician. Abe Merrit's The Ship of Ishtar. Hannes Bok's The Sorceror's Ship. It can be done, and when it is done properly the results are a sheerly magical as the subjects of the stories. But all these books came fro the Golden Age, around 1930 plus or minus a couple of decades. Now, completely unexpectedly, Barry Hughart has produced a marvelous little epic which easily takes its place alongside the finest works of the past. The Bridge of Birds is set, as the wrapper blurb puts it, in "an exotic back-drop of China thirteen-and-a-half centuries ago." Somewaht luridly, the blurb goes on to speak of homicidal matriarchs, "Monsters both visible and invisible," marvelous ghosts, and on and on. As blurbs go, this one is outstanding - and it does not overstate the contents one little bit. Our Hero Number Ten Ox narrates the story, and though naive he is far from stupid. Certainly, as one would expect, he is unschooled - what else would you expect of a yokel from an extremely insular village deep in the heart of ancient China? He is, if one ;can pardon the comparison, an oriental Lil Abner. When something mysterious happens to the children of the village, Number Ten Ox is sent to Imperial City to hire a sage for advice. But the only one he can afford (or indeed even interest) is Li Kao, an ancient and extremely venerable sage who holds the Imperial Flower Award for scholarship, the highest possible award tendered by the Emperor Himself. Unfortunately, Li Kao has a slight flaw in his character... Together, Number Ten Ox and Li Kao embark on a quest for that most valuable of all treasures, lthe Great Root of Power, the ginseng root which embodies the Goddess of Ginseng Herself. Only the essence of the Great Root can save the children. There is, of course, only one, and it is... well, now, that's part of the problem. It seems to have been chopped up into several major pieces, and each piece is owned by one Great Personage or another, such as the Ancestress, and the Baron, and the Emperor Himself. In the course of the story, Mr. Hughart produces a beautiful essay on the history and business - and the dangers - of finding genseng root in the wilds (which is, of course, the only place genseng can be found.) There is nothing mythicall about ginseng root, by the way; it is now,m and has been for countless centuries, a very valuable product of the Orient. But the most wonderful person in a book full of wonderful personages is Lotus Cloud, a peasant girl of exceptional plainness who is, nevertheless, completely irresistible. She is insatiable in her demands for pearls and jade, and every man who meets her insists on bakrupting himself just for the pleasure of spilling treasure in her lap. She is, of course, responsible for the Bridge of Birds which is built between Earth and Heaven especially for her. The story is told by Number Ten Ox, but it is really hers. This lovingly crafted book is full of plot twists, literary surprises, and all the other wonderful things which make for an excellent read. It will take, indeed has already taken, its place among the great works of the fantasist's art. This book is highly recommended for all of us who love delightful adventure and fine writing.
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am 4. Januar 2000
Einer der vielen Hintergruende, die von der Massen--Fantasy nicht erfasst sind, sind die Mythen Chinas. Barry Hugharts hat sich mit /Bridge of Birds/ daran gemacht, dieses Goldfeld zu erschliessen. Das Buch handelt nur im ersten Teil von der Suche nach der Great Root of Power, der Mutter aller Ginsengwurzeln, die die Kindes des Dorfes Ku Fu aus ihrem Koma erwecken soll. Die beiden Hauptpersonen, der gar nicht so stereotype Mann fuer's Grobe Number Ten Ox, und Meister Li, der auch nicht ganz dem Bild des entrueckten Weisen entspricht, taenzeln mit maerchenhafter Leichtigkeit durch zahlreiche Abenteuer, bis sie den Grossen Ginseng gefunden haben. Der entpuppt sich aber nur als Ansatz zu einem viel groesseren und wichtigeren Thema, das bis in die chinesische Goetterwelt hineinreicht.
/Bridge of Birds/ lebt nicht nur von der Neuheit und Einzigartigkeit des Sagenstoffs, sondern auch von Hugharts Kunst, die Unwirklichkeit eines Maerchens mit realistischen Gefahren zu verbinden. Zwar wird schnell klar, dass die Protagonisten (wie im Maerchen) ihr Ziel erreichen werden (interessant ist, wie), aber die Hindernisse auf ihrem Weg sind greifbarer als die symbolischen Widrigkeiten eines Maerchens und die standardisierte Art, wie der Held sie ueberwindet. Und auf die Aufgaben, die Hughart ihnen stellt, haben die Personen aus /Bridge of Bords/ ganz andere Antworten als man als Westeuropaeer erwartet. Etwa bei der Ancestress, einer skrupellosen Hochadeligen, die mit einer unglaublichen List in einer List in einer List uebertoelpelt und ihrer Ginsengwurzel beraubt werden muss.
Chinesen, sagt man, schaetzen sowohl die Wiederholung als auch die Verklausulierung als Kunstform. Bei Barry Hugharts /Bridge of Birds/ ist davon nichts zu spueren. Das Englisch ist klar und sauber, und ein paar Fremdworte aus dem fernoestlichen Bereich sind schnell nachgeschlagen. Wenn man ein bisschen Surrealitaet toleriert, ist man mit /Bridge of Birds/ bestens bedient. (Dies ist eine Amazon.de an der Uni-Studentenrezension.)
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am 3. Februar 1998
In the genre of science-fiction & fantasy novels, it is common for a truly classic tale to be found hiding on one's bookcase. 'Bridge of Birds' was one such story that I was lucky enough to stumble upon. Take the advise of my fellow reviewers and purchase a copy of this book. With the lack of any Hollywood adaption or big name author, most books simply dissapear, but this novel remains in print on the strength of its story alone.
The story of the quest of Number Ten Ox and Master Li Kao to save the dying children of a village is magical. Part fantasy, part fairy tale, and part tall tale, it all weaves together in the style of ancient Chinese storytelling. A refreshing change from the traditional medievel European fantasy setting, Hughart instead places his story in China, and uses the rich resources and traditions of that country to tell his story.
Like 'The Princess Bride,' this story is a fairy tale for adults, with a mix of sentimentality, sexuality, humor and legend that will have you buying copies for all your friends.
A hidden treasue, a rare find...pick your favorite overused cliche...they all apply to 'Bridge of Birds.' You'll treasure its charm and uniqueness.
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