Title/Author: Sky Burial/Xinran
Publisher: Random House Canada
No. of pages: 206
ISBN 10: 0-679-31360-5
Price: RM20.00 (Discounted price. Hardcover)
In a nutshell
Xinran received a phone call from a listener of her programme asking her to meet a woman who had just crossed the border from Tibet to China. Xinran made a trip and met Shu Wen who recounted the story of her 30-year odyssey in Tibet.
After being married for only a few months, Shu Wen's husband joined the Chinese army and was sent to Tibet for the purpose of unification of China and Tibet. Shortly after he left, she was told that he had been killed, and was not given any other details. She decided to join a milia unit going to Tibet to find out if he was really dead and if he was, how and why he died. Her search seemed endless, nevertheless she was adamant in finding the truth.
What I liked
Yes. I've finally read Sky Burial, and I loved it as much as I loved Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother. I already knew the ending, but it didn't matter, because what made the story so stunning was the journey of Shu Wen; her search for love - how much and what it meant to her. Xinran's narration was so powerful that I could feel all of Shu Wen's emotions; her anxiety, pain and suffering, even her joy of finding true friendship.
What makes this story even more meaningful is that it made me realise how important it is to understand one another, without being judgmental. It's amazing to see how Tibet changed Shu Wen in a span of 30 years. Tibet changed her immensely. So in tuned was she with the Tibetans and their way of life that her act, mannerisms, thoughts and looks gradually reflected that of one. When she bumped into a group of Chinese people, they were shocked to learn she was Chinese. Then she immediately felt how the Chinese viewed the Tibetans and vice versa.
Once again, Xinran wrote a fantastic, compelling story on love. True love that knows no limits or boundaries. Love that gave Shu Wen the strength to endure the impossible, conquer the unknown and survive the toughest conditions of Tibet.
Xinran had indeed successfully recreated Shu Wen's story based on a two-day long conversation.
Sky Burial or A Year in Tibet?
A friend of mine asked me if I preferred Sky Burial or A Year in Tibet. It's quite a tough question to answer, to be honest. I don't think I can compare them. But if I had to choose between the two, I personally prefer Sky Burial. One, because it has a clearer theme and focus, and has a flow. Two, because I prefer Xinran's writing style. (I may be biased as I've only read one of Sun's books so far). Xinran's Sky Burial was a page turner for me and it brought tears to my eyes (so did her other book).
As for A Year in Tibet, it felt quite 'diary-like' for me as Sun recorded her observations and things that she couldn't film for her documentary. In each chapter, I learn something new about Tibet in quite a straight forward manner - their festivals/celebrations, costumes, the way they cook their food, terms (there's a glossary behind), beliefs, thoughts and opinions, why they can be so forgiving, etc. Sun even quoted from reference books in almost all her chapters in order to strengthen a certain point. However, she also offered her own point of view.
There were also political nuances in this A Year in Tibet, which I can't comment because I don't know much about the conflict between the Chinese and Tibetans. But I can say, Sun is very bold (it was difficult getting their opinions/thoughts esp with the Chinese and Tibetans conflict. but I guess her studies about Tibet and its people helped) and patient. Gaining their trust was quite a task, especially because she's Chinese.
That said, I'm glad I read A Year in Tibet first, as it gave me more details of the Tibetans' lives as compared to Sky Burial. So when I read Sky Burial, it was 'easier' for me to comprehend the Tibetans' way of life, and what makes them such generous and forgiving people.
My verdict? 4/5