Sky Burial is based on a true story as it was told to the author, Xinran, by the principal character, Shu Wen. Wen's young idealist husband is an Army doctor in 1950's China, sent to Tibet during the time of China's "liberation" of Tibet. They had only been married three weeks when he left, and around 100 days after his departure she received a letter stating he was dead. The lack of explanation of death gave her a hope that perhaps he really wasn't dead, just lost, and she joined the Army as well, in her husband's unit. Herself a dermatologist, they were only too glad to of her request to be sent to Tibet--doctors were much needed on the front. Shortly after reaching Tibet, however, Wen is separated from her unit and spends the next thirty years wandering with a family of nomadic Tibetans, never giving up hope that she will find the answer to her husband's disappearance.
The writing is sparse and without a lot of descriptions, and whether it is intentional or because Xinran is in fact a journalist and not a novelist, it works wonderfully for both the untamed Tibetan landscape and the slowly unfolding, sometimes bleak but always beautiful, story.
The reader follows Wen, amazed at her tenacity as the years go by, at her unwillingness to give up against such odds. As she becomes more and more comfortable in her Tibetan ways, the reader sees Wen falling in love, unknowingly, with Tibet--and does the same, openly embracing this wild country. Like Wen, the reader can not give up hope, knowing there will be an answer to Wen's search, because such determination and love does not go unrewarded.
Subtitled "an epic love story of Tibet", Sky Burial is just that--a love story of a woman for a country as well as her husband; a love story of the reader for Tibet, for Wen, and for Xinran for giving such a gift.
(originally read/reviewed in 2008)