This genre-bending work takes the novel down
paths not often walked for it documents a dying culture by a couple of this
cultural group, provides elaborate footnotes sure to interest the
anthropologically-minded reader, has portions that are biography and history,
and more. Its richly detailed description of folk and religious practices,
family interactions and breadth in the number and types of scenes and vignettes
provide valuable records of what was, or might have been.
story is set in China's largest province – Qinghai – best known for Koknor, the great inland lake
and, more recently, the devastating earthquake in Yushu. Within this
vast land is situated Huzhu Mongghul (Tu) Autonomous County, where the
characters in this novel dwell. Noted by nineteenth century Western explorers,
the Tu are one of China's fifty-six official nationalities. Speaking a language
with close links to Mongolian, the Mongghul are much influenced by Tibetan
religion, while retaining, as this novel details, many complex folk religious
beliefs and practices.
novel begins a year before the advent of the twentieth century and ends a
century later, spanning a time when Mongghul culture was vigorous to a time
when much had been lost.
figure prominently in this work. The main character, Xjirimu,
refuses to discipline one of her sons, who so brutally abuses his wife that she
dies while fleeing the home. The dead woman's family exacts revenge that
inspires Xjirimu to lead her ruined family to a new home in a wild, dangerous
land where a wolf kills an infant left unattended as Xjirimu weeds nearby with
Xjirimu is to repeat history. Her
sole surviving son brings a wife, Zhualimaxji, into a home ruled by Xjirimu and
her three daughters, each of whom have undergone a ritual that allows them to
see men and have children while remaining unmarried. It is not the son, this
time, who abuses his wife, but Xjirimu and the sisters. The wife flees. Where
she goes and her ensuing life is vividly described by the writers, who visited
her. The runaway wife describes how much she missed her homeland to
which she never returned: "I climbed the mountain behind my village and
gazed at my ancestral home. I wanted to fly there." She died a month after
the authors' visit.
and Jugui have accomplished something astonishing for they have taken us into a
culture that only locals could write about so incisively, with such authority
and compassion, and so unapologetically. In so doing they have created an
enduring record of this vanishing culture.