ISBN: 0099481332

Translated by Flora Drew.

Collection of five short stories.

In “the woman and the blue sky”, there’s a description of a tibetian sky burial. Fascinating and in intimate details.

“The smile of Lake Drolmula” is about a boy who returns to his nomadic family, after having experienced city life

“The eight-fanged roach” – a traveler meets a man in the Tibetan plains, who recounts his sad life story. broach taboo subjects of opedius complex, incest

“The golden crown” – a retelling of the legend of a missing crown from a Stupa. How the wife of a craftsman (who specialises in making the golden crown of the Stupa) seduced his disciple and attempted to steal the crown. Again broaches taboo subject of sex and crimes of passion.

“The final initiation” – i think the most controversial story in the book. Tells the tale of a initiation rite of a monk (nun) who’s a reincarnation of a living Buddha. Initiation rite was a sexual coupling!

Afterword by Ma Jian – worth reading. Author explained how his book was conceived, and his reactions when he suddenly learned that the Chinese authorities have banned the book and his difficulties in getting his subsequent works published. The Chinese authorities described the works as pornographic. Maybe in the late 1980s it was controversial (but i think Murakami is a lot more risque). I don’t think it’s porn. More of a shock factor as it broaches taboo subjects (to the Chinese) but not pornographic.

Beautiful descriptive prose in the text. I was immediately captivated by this, in the first para in the first story:

“… our bus ground to the top of the five-thousand-metre Kambala Pass. Behind us, a few army trucks were struggling up the foothills. As the last clouds tore from the rocks and prayer stones on the summit and slipped down the gullies, Yamdrok Lake came into view. When the surface of the lake mirrored the blue sky and plunged the distant snow peaks head-first into the water, i was filled with a sudden longing to take someone in my arms. This was a mountain road to Tibet.”

Every line is so visual. I think it’s both the elegance in the original mandarin script and the brilliance of the translator.

A person would stick out one’s tongue either as a act of defiance, or taunt, or impotent rage. The predicament of the author seems to suggest all three.

The recurrent Tibetan Buddhism theme–about life, suffering and rebirth–could also be a subtle reference by the author, about the political situation of Tibet.