Hughart, Barry: (01) Bridge of Birds

Yesterday, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon, I was in a great mood because I’d just finished something important that had been hanging over my shoulder for a long time, just at the deadline, and I decided that, since I’d been inside working all week, I would go outside and sit in the sun and read (the sun makes me so happy. I’m seriously phototropic.). So, I said to myself, “Hmm, I need a nice sunny book to read. I know, I’ll re-read Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds.”

So I did. And I was very happy.

I’ve previously reviewed Bridge of Birds, so I’ll just leave you with this passage:

“Let’s get out of here.”

It was easier said than done. It would be suicide to go back into the labyrinth, and the only other exit was the small mouth of the cave. We stood there and gazed down a hundred feet of sheer cliff that could not possibly be negotiated without ropes and grappling hooks 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. The moon was reflected in it, and I gazed from the moon to Master Li and back again.

“My life has been rather hectic, and I could use a long rest,” he sighed. “When I go 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.

. . . Li Kao climbed up upon my back and wrapped his arms around my neck, and I discovered that I was beginning to feel undressed unless I wore my ancient sage like a raincoat. I perched on the edge and took aim.

“Farewell, sloth.”

“Farewell, cloud.”

I held my nose and jumped. The wind whistled around our ears as we plunged toward the pool, and toward a jagged rock that we hadn’t noticed.

“Left! Left!” Master Li yelled, pulling on my pendant chain like the reins of a bridle.

I frantically flapped my arms, like a large awkward bird, and the reflected moon grew larger and larger, and then so huge that I almost expected to see Chang-o and the White Rabbit stick their heads out and shake their fists at us. We missed the rock by six inches. The moon appeared to smile, and the warm waters of the Yellow Sea opened to embrace us like long-lost friends.


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  1. wow. and here i thought i was the ONLY person who’d read that book. it was very good.

  2. Kaja Foglio illustrated a collected edition, but it seems to have sold out.

  3. Re: Bridge of Birds: Paul, I believe that was an edition put out by the bookstore The Stars Our Destination, which has gone out of business. I already had all three, but I didn’t realize it had interior illustrations; I might’ve got one if I did. Have you seen the original draft (under “Features” at The POV character is–Master Li. It is almost indescribly weird.

  4. The collected edition isn’t exactly illustrated (and I got a copy from the University of Washington bookstore in May this year, new, so it’s clearly not impossible to find) – there’s only a full-page illustration for each of the three books (think cover). Beautiful illustrations, mind.

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