Bridge of Birds (Barry Hughart) 5*

“Take a large bowl. Fill it with equal measures of fact, fantasy, history, mythology, science, superstition, logic, and lunacy. Darken the mixture with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousand years of civilization, bellow kan pei—which means ‘dry cup’—and drink to the dregs.”

“And I will be wise?”

“Better. You will be Chinese.”

***

“My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character,” he said matter-of-factly. “You got a problem?”

I told him the whole story, and I was weeping at the end. He listened with interest, and had me go over it again, and then he pitched the empty bowl over his shoulder so that it smashed upon the rest of the crockery. When he hopped up from his mattress I was astonished to see that he was as spry as a goat.

“Number Ten Ox, eh? Muscles are highly overrated, but yours may come in handy,” he said. “We will have to hurry, and for a variety of reasons you may be required to twist somebody’s head off.”

I could scarcely believe my ears.

“Master Li, do you mean that you will come to my village and find out how a plague can learn to count?” I cried.

“I already know how your plague learned to count,” he said calmly. “Bend over.”

A story that thinks on its toes and laughs with its heart, I love love love it.  My sole complaint is that this rollicking wonder is a first novel, and it’s just not fair that some bastards can hit it this far out of the park on the first try.

10 responses to “Bridge of Birds (Barry Hughart) 5*

  1. I need a book rec for T-day break. I read about 5 fiction bks a year, so something broadly-themed and/or epic would be ideal to maximize my efforts.

    • In honor of b-school, how about a fictional study in leadership? The most effective leader I’ve ever met in fact or fiction comes from the pen of a Minnesotan housewife. Miles Vorkosigan (modeled on T.E. Lawrence “of Arabia”), is insane, hyper-active, and disabled in a future world where everyone is physically perfect. He’s an enabler who vaults everyone around him to new heights. The near-future scenery is also interesting from a systems standpoint. The Warrior’s Apprentice is the first book.
      Or, if you want to visit dear ol’ Houston, I liked The Speed of Dark. Women sci-fi writers, solidarity.

    • Or, you could actually read The Poisonwood Bible since you’ve already weighed in on it in my earlier book report.

      • Yeah . . . I guess it’s not fair to read literary criticism for fun in lieu of literature for fun. But sort of akin to watching political ads in lieu of political speeches, which a lot of other people do.

      • I’m saving up for a biochip implant that will feed me Keith Olbermann’s opinions, which will save me so much time next election season.

  2. P.S. Bridge of Birds appears to be written by a totally well-adjusted person, but here’s an author’s note:
    When I got out of Andover in the 1950s I suffered from fairly severe depression, but this was back when the only such term recognized by the medical profession was “depressive” following “manic” which was one bad gig until some genius renamed it “bipolar disorder” and after that it couldn’t harm a fly. Since I wasn’t lucky enough to qualify for manic and clinical depression didn’t exist they diagnosed schizophrenia and packed me off to a booby hatch. (Which was not entirely a bad thing. Man, the scene at Kings Count Psychotic Ward was like awesome!) Then I was promoted to a slightly less odorous asylum where Doctor Oscar Diethelm expounded upon the delights of going snickety-snick on my frontal lobes, and while it would take too long to explain I managed to escape to Columbia University. There I found myself groping through weird landscapes obscured by clouds of pot behind which pimpled prophets of the Beat Generation shrieked, “Our minds destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked, dragging through black streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, or what the fuck, something like that. Yo, daddy-o!” and I said to myself, “Barry, you have found a home.”

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