The Ten Thousand Things by John Spurling
So opens John Spurling’s latest novel, which centers around the recollections of Wang Meng, a low-level bureaucrat in the Yuan Dynasty. The Yuan Dynasty was a tumultuous time that followed after China had been invaded and appropriated by the Mongols. What’s amazing about his story is that it doesn’t feel at all like a dry historical retelling of life in a faraway time and place, as I expected. Instead, it is a carefully measured study of what it is like to watch change destroy and reshape the world around you. The problems faced by Wang Meng and those he knows feel timeless.
In tidy, delicate prose which recalls the intricate details of a classic Chinese painting, Spurling journeys with Wang Meng through the landscape, meeting and befriending a colorful assortment of people who are, like him, trying to make sense of it all. The pacing of this novel demands that you read it attentively, but it is worth savoring. I found it a rewarding read on snowy afternoons.
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