by Gao Jianqun
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Received for review from Amazon Vine
Gao Jianqun’s fascinating novel, Tongwan City (CN Times Books 2013) is the story of the end of the Hun era. It is written as a novel, but feels so close to reality it could rightly be called creative non-fiction. I know nothing about that era–Attila the Hun is the extent–so I had to do some research to determine if this was more fiction than reality or vice-verse. In fact, what little information is readily available supports Jianqun’s recounting. What he does well is fill in the blanks lost to history.
This is the story of two seminal individuals in Chinese history–Helian Bobo who re-establishes Hun supremacy over Asia only to lose it, and the Buddhist monk Kumarajiva who spreads Buddhism throughout the land. Jianqun’s simple summation of the two–one good one evil–doesn’t begin to describe their affect on events that swirl around them. Knowing them now as I do, I wonder how any single era could provide temporal space to two such opposite life forces: One renowned for violence and brutality, the other for peace and tranquility, a powerful juxtaposition of their purpose on earth. Still they cross paths only once, and that time in passing. No wonder it takes half the book before we truly meet both men.
Jianqun’s writer’s voice, as befits a story of this magnitude, is unique. I felt the world of Ancient China seeping into my being with each page turn until finally, I was drenched–and I got it. This is a deeply complicated culture, far different from today’s worlds. Jianqun accomplishes this assault on my cerebral senses with techniques I rarely read in fiction. He includes lots of–really, much more than I’ve ever read in any other fiction book–authorial intrusion where he jumps into the story to discuss research on the history of the times and gives us a peak into what is going to happen later. Truly, I couldn’t tell how much of this was real or his imagination. Oddly, I didn’t find it distracting, more like his personal storytelling style.
Besides history and rich characters, the book has some great horse scenes (the Huns loved their horses):
“When [the horse] ran, its mane ran down its long elegant neck like a fair lady’s hair. A lock reached over its forehead and hung there like bangs… Its four muscular legs, each a finely-tuned symphony of muscle packing massive energy, generated a grand impetus that propelled the strong body to move ahead.”
One note: This is a stunningly noble story which at times seems poorly served by the translation from Jianqun’s native Chinese to English:
“Out of respect for the new life, let us apply some restraint and get the story rolling.”
Overall, though, for historic fiction fans, this is a must-read. Just open it knowing it will read like no other book you’ve ever read–and be ready for a surprise ending.
If you would like to purchase this from Amazon, click the link below:
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, a freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is editor of a K-8 technology curriculum and technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.