When The Children Of His Village Were Struck With A Mysterious Illness, Number Ten Ox Sought A Wiseman To Save Them He Found Master Li Kao, A Scholar With A Slight Flaw In His Character Together, They Set Out To Find The Great Root Of Power, The Only Possible CureThe Quest Led Them To A Host Of Truly Memorable Characters, Multiple Wonders, Incredible Adventures And Strange Coincidences, Which Were Really Not Coincidences At All And It Involved Them In An Ancient Crime That Still Perturbed The Serenity Of Heaven Simply And Charmingly Told, This Is A Wry Tale, A Sly Tale, And A Story Of Wisdom Delightfully Askew Once Read, Its Marvels And Beauty Will Not Easily Fade From The MindThe Author Claims That This Is A Novel Of An Ancient China That Never Was But, Oh It Should Have Been This hilarious and charming book is probably the most fun bro mance I ve ever run across It gets five stars from me as a fable similar to Big Fish or The Princess Bride in tone, but with way laugh out loud moments Did I already mention charm A young fellow living in ancient China has been dispatched to find help from a wise man any wise man available for a handful of copper pennies for the children of his village have collapsed with some type of plague affecting only those between the ages of 8 and 13 He must hire a sage to cure the little ones from an illness that knows how to count Number Ten Ox he is the tenth son of his father and is as strong as, wellyou know can only afford a wine soaked healer called Master Li Kao As it turns out, Master Li is the precise, wiley, criminally oriented 110 year old they need The children have accidentally been poisoned, and only The Great Root of Power 1000 year old ginseng with arm like appendages can save them Now, to go steal it Number Ten Ox and Master Li set off on a series of adventures that include characters named Henpicked Ho, Cut Off Their Balls Wang, etc and involve trickery, faked corpses, and other Brer Rabbit like subterfuge The villains are over the top horrendous in uproarious ways, and you ll cheer their downfalls Foodies will snicker over the detailed preparation of Porcupine Paste serve it with a gold instead of silver serving spoon and the diner will DIE.If you liked The Princess Bride, you will love Bridge of Birds I highly recommend this to high school or college aged readers and anybody young at heart Fantasy is totally not my genre of choice, but I applaud and understand all the wonderful awards this adventuresome book won.Upon introducing oneself, we learn that it is polite to say My surname is Cantrell, my personal name is LeAnne, and there is a slight flaw in my character This book, though, is FLAWLESS Super fun. This book is insane Insanely fun that is The humour really drives the plot forward with a gag a minute just rolling through one on top of the other It was hilarious Set in Medieval China, the children of the village of Ku Fu have been struck with a plague and pure hearted Number Ten Ox has been sent to find a wise man for helpWe need a wise man who can tell us how a plague can learn to countEnter Master Li who repeatedly during the story introduces himself asMy surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character We could go ahead and try to guess what exactly Master Li s personal flaw is but really, we can have a few good guesses as both Master Li and Number Ten Ox embark on a quest that sees them lying, stealing, cheating and swindling their way across China all in the name of the poor plague ridden children of Ku Fu There are really no depths our two heroes will not stoop to or rather Master Li will stoop to in the name of the greater good, whether it be convincing a merchant to buy a gold shitting goat, or bartering an ear that gives the children of one s enemies leprosy In the process of searching for the cure for the children of Ku Fu they will also uncover a 1000 year old mystery which needs to be solved for there to be any chance of ridding the village of the plague On their way they will come across many interesting characters with the most elegant names like Pretty Ping, or Fainting Maid, or Lotus Cloud, and my personal favouriteCut Off Their Balls Wang.The humour had my family members raising their eyebrows as I sat shaking with mirth For instance, do you know how a gravedigger avoids burying his shadow The obvious answer would seem that you can t bury your shadow But Pawnbroker Feng and Ma the Grub have a sensible solutionCareful with that shovel yelped Ma the Grub, leaping back in fear You almost trapped my shadow inside the grave Why don t you tie your shadow to your body with a cord, like a sensible person Pawnbroker Fang grumbled.As you may have guessed by now the tone is rather light hearted throughout But one should not expect that this is therefore a light easy brainless read You need to pay attention The book employs an economy of words that sees the most insignificant detail as important for advancing the plot from encounter to encounter, following it s own convoluted internal logic What is , these details come back to play a part in the larger story As zany as the story appears, you can actually solve the 1000 year old mystery if you ask the right questions and pay attention to the dialogue I did not guess the ending because I was totally distracted from how important certain clues were But they were there and I was kicking myself for discarding them So I guess a reread is in order at some stage.Anyway, I enjoyed the book and my advice for other readers is, don t read when you are tired You will enjoy the humour and the story a lot while alert.4 stars When I moonlighted at the late, lamented The Stars Our Destination between about 1996 and 2000, this was one of two books Alice Bentley stocked in vast quantity at deeply discounted prices the other being the store s namesake When you love a book like Alice loved this one, you want to make sure everyone reads it, and she was its zealous advocate to our not yet enlightened clientele It was the sort of book that disappoints you when you have to leave it at the end, like being exiled from a wondrous, frightening, invigorating fantasyland What hurt all the was the comparative rarity of Hughart s two followups, The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen, which were only extant in book club and small run softcover editions, respectively These three stand as Hughart s only novels to date which is simultaneously a damn shame and a relief You never want to see an author you love decline, and it seems authors inevitably do Instead, Hughart produced three works in a bubble and then quietly departed the field, leaving something special behind him.I note, for the sake of completeness, that The Stars Our Destination also published an omnibus edition of the complete trilogy with Barry Hughart s blessing Whether those are easier to find than the originals, I can t say. Writing a review of Bridge of Birds is a challenge that I admit to not being up to I do not know of words that are powerful enough to do even a half rate job of conveying just how fantastic I think this book is Nevertheless, I shall attempt it, as the most important thing in the entire world right now is that I convince everyone to read this book.Number Ten Ox who isn t actually an Ox, but was his parents 10th child, and is rather large is a peasant farmer in the titular China That Never Was During the annual harvesting of silk, many children in his village fall sick with a plague He departs to go to Peking to find a wise man to help cure the children, but the only wise man he can afford is Li Kao, who proudly proclaims to have a slight flaw in his character It should be noted that he proclaims this for this first time as Number Ten Ox finds Li Kao coming to from a drunken stupor and demanding wine.Thus begins one of the greatest adventure stories I have ever read Comparable to some of Neil Gaiman s best, or to The Princess Bride, Bridge of Birds starts with a simple medical mystery, and escalates rapidly This escalation is particularly joyous for the reader to experience, as it occurs through the wide eyed point of view of Number Ten Ox, who has essentially never left his tiny village before he finds himself in large cities, the estates of nobility, isolated monasteries, and witnessing and participating in unimaginable events all in the hopes of curing the children of his village That last bit is kind of a lie, but I won t clarify for fear of spoiling things.Delightful and dastardly characters pop in and out, providing aid willingly or unwilling or hindrance usually this part is willing to the let s say heroic duo s quest Henpecked Ho Miser Shen The Ancestress Lotus Cloud The Key Rabbit Pawnbroker Fang and Ma the Grub Bright Star Fainting Maid The names of the characters are already so full of the special charm that pervades this book, that I don t even want to tell you any about them.Really, the charm is a large part of what makes this book so special So rather than trying to come up with words powerful enough to make you read this book, I ll just leave you with words that I ve lifted straight out of it His hands shot out, a blade glinted, blood spurted and he calmly dropped the thug s earring into his pocket, along with the ear that was attached to it My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character, he said with a polite bow This is my esteemed client, Number Ten Ox, who is about to strike you over the head with a blunt object I wasn t quite sure what a blunt object was, but I was spared the embarrassment of asking when the thug sat down at a table and began to cry I d do it myself if I were ninety, but it appears that Lotus Cloud will be your department You may console youself with the thought the most expensive woman in the world is likely to be the most beautiful Master Li, I shall do my duty, I said bravely Any last words asked the sergeant at arms.I was only Number Ten Ox, so I lifted my head to redacted I hope I splatted blood all over you, you son of a sow I yelled Oddly enough I felt much better, and I stopped gagging at the thick sweet smell of blood.We gazed down a hundred feet of sheer cliff at an angry sea where waves smashed against jagged rocks that lifted through the foam like teeth There was one small calm pool almost directly beneath us, but for all I knew it was six inches deep My life has been rather hectic, and I could use a long rest, Master Li sighed When I get to Hell to be judged, I intend to ask the Yama Kings to let me be reborn as a three toed sloth Do you have any preference I thought about it A cloud, I said shyly.I perched on the edge and took aim Farewell, sloth Farewell, cloud I held my nose and jumped things going on right now, for future reference 2012 Olympic Games, Economic Woes, Kim Jong Un just got married, Twilight chick cheated on Twilight dude, Ongoing campaigning for 2012 American presidential election, Scientists tentatively believe they have a cure for AIDS, Chick Fil A hates gay people, I have some food stuck in my teeth, and the Seattle Sounders just signed a new midfielder. I can t think of a book quite like this BoB is a light hearted Chinese fantasy that is refreshing and completely enjoyable Hughart makes the folktales and legends of ancient China seem utterly commonplace and this lends to the surreality of the story After reading a number of very serious books, I really needed a novel like this I feel bad I finished this book two days after we recorded the episode of Sword and Laser where we wrap it up first time I haven t finished a book for the audio show I blame Outlander for being too long.Anyhow, I wish I had made it to the end, because coming away from the book now I feel much differently than I did at the 75% mark If felt like the silliness that was almost a distraction for me came together in the end in a really beautiful and meaningful way You all said I d feel different, and you were right I should listen to you often. Second review November 2017Gosh, has it really been 7 years nearly 8 since I read this Feels like no time at all.Anyway, after not enjoying Who Fears Death, I was struck with a sudden craving for this book Just an urge to re read it I can t explain why I just knew it would help.And it definitely did I have little to add about the book itself in this second review my first review stands I ll say that I picked up on a lot of the uh sexual stuff this time around 20 year old Ben was a precious innocent.Original review January 2010I m starting to get to the age where I m reading books now and saying, Why wasn t this published when I was younger This is what I ve been missing all these years this fills the gap that, until it was filled, I never knew existed Although Bridge of Birds was published before I was born, it still provokes a similar feeling one of, Why didn t I know about this when I was younger.There s something seductive about fables and fairy tales the real, often grim fairy tales that lurk in the subconscious of every culture In showing us an ancient China that never was, Barry Hughart embraces the atmosphere of a fable and the kernel of darkness it should contain Reading Bridge of Birds was fulfilling not only cathartic, but reassuring.The repetitive structure of the plot quest, then return to the village, quest, etc combines with the rhythmic style of the prose to manipulate one s emotions Although Bridge of Birds has a happy ending, with the heroes vanquishing the villain and freeing the damsel in distress, there s a sinister sense that they got off easy and that was at stake than was ever apparent There are books that have happy endings because they are feel good books that put little at stake Then there are books that have happy endings because they have something to say about happiness Bridge of Birds is the latter.But here I am, talking in vague generalities One reason I m doing this is that Bridge of Birds, to me, feels like a complete narrative only when considered as a whole analyzing the individual parts of the story removes them from the context they need to remain vital As the ending of the story reveals, it s impossible to understand the quest for the Great Root of Power without understanding the Duke of Ch in and why he must be deposed But why believe me Li Kao, although he has a slight flaw in his character, says it best This is a fellow who arranged things so that anyone who went after him would have to wander through the landscape of a homicidal fairy tale, which makes no sense if you think of him as a great and powerful ruler, but which makes perfect sense if you think of him as he once was a cowardly little boy lying in bed at night, staring in terror at every noise and seeing monsters in every shadow He grew older, but it can scarcely be said that he grew up, because he was so frightened at the thought of death that he was willing to commit any crime, and even to lose his heart if it would keep him from the Great Wheel of Transmigrations.This is a diagnosis of the Duke of Ch in that strikes me as accurate, not just of the character but of the evils he represents Hughart is also a master of foreshadowing in this book, and as the Duke of Ch in s identity falls into place and we learn how he came to be so powerful, we see just how well Hughart laid out the steps leading up to the climax the myth of the Princess of Birds and Star Shepherd, the scrutinizing powers of the Old Man of the Mountain, the tales of ginseng.It s true that there s an inordinate amount of coincidence in the book, so much so that it becomes almost trite Yet I m inclined to forgive Hughart he takes a gamble, and it pays off.Aside from his above remarks, and his oft repeated introductory phrase, I most enjoyed Li Kao for his interpretation of why Number Ten Ox and Miser Shen were devoted to Lotus Cloud but he was not Master Li s slight flaw in his character prevented him from attaining the innocence of these other two, and thus prevented him from seeing Lotus Cloud s hidden godly nature In that sense, I suspect the Duke of Ch in is guilty of having supernumerary flaws of character Master Li has lived long and has grown too cynical to stay completely uncorrupted He has lived well, however, and preserved his sense of adventure and justice The Duke of Ch in, on the other hand, has lived too long, and has not lived well His longevity has made him a perverted, corrupted, and cowardly man than he was in his youth I found the contrast between the Duke and Master Li the most striking there were many others, such as the brain brawn pairing of Li and Number Ten Ox, and the transformations of Henpecked Ho and Miser Shen.For such a short book, there s an awful lot to Bridge of Birds The book s description doesn t do it justice and in fact doesn t let on to what actually takes place in the story As such, Bridge of Birds is something of a hidden gem it is far fantastical, much magical, than what one would initially expect Suspend your scepticism along with your disbelief, and Bridge of Birds will win over your heart just don t put it in a box in the middle of a city at the bottom of a lake. I most definitely have than a slight flaw in my character, and I only liked this book, did not love it.Truth be told, it is a simply, elegantly written account of an oddly alternate history of China describing the journey of Master Li and Number Ten Ox in dealing with a mysterious disease and lots of other stuff.I can absolutely see where someone without a slight flaw in their character would LOVE this book and want to read all of the sequels, want to take this book on dates, propose, get married and have little alternate history Chinese babies and live happily ever after.But you know, slight flawed character me.Writer Hughart has used this odd vehicle to create a fabulously imagined fantasy almost a modern fable, with simple but stylish sub plots and several loosely connected story lines that actually do get tied up nicely at the end.Besides the grounding in Chinese history alternatively this just seemed untied and flapping in the wind a fantasy that came unglued somewhere.Still pretty good. My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character.So says Master Li to Number Ten Ox when Ox is sent to the city to find a sage to assist his village, dealing with a mysterious disease I personally was born in the Year of the Ox and therefore had a soft spot for Number Ten Ox.This novel rated about 3.5 stars for me which, I hasten to add, I consider to be a good rating I may have been reading Bridge of Birds at the wrong moment for me, as I am in a bit of a reading slump right now and finding it difficult to concentrate on the page Or there may be a slight flaw in my character.In many ways, BoB reminded me of reading Aesop s fables as a reader, I was very aware that the author was not in any way attempting to reconstruct Ancient China He was using Ancient China for a fun backdrop to his own kind of fable, enjoying have different cultural elements to play with than are common in Western literature He did, however, borrow the trope of the shady character who really has a heart of gold and who uses his criminal talents for a good cause I thought of Harry Harrison s Stainless Steel Rat many times while reading Bridge of Birds Master Li is the brains of the operation and Number Ten Ox is the brawn That reminded me strongly of Fritz Leiber s Ffafhrd and the Gray Mouser series Some of Master Li and Number Ten Ox s adventures may also have been influenced by the Indiana Jones movie franchise.An enjoyable, fun book well suited to lunch break reading.
Hughart was educated at Phillips Academy Andover He attended Columbia University where he obtained a bachelor s degree in 1956.Upon his graduation from Columbia, Hughart joined the United States Air Force and served from 1956 to 1960 where he was involved in laying mines in the Korean Demilitarized Zone During Hughart s military service he began to develop his lifelong interest in China
- 278 pages
- Bridge of Birds
- Barry Hughart
- 15 March 2019 Barry Hughart