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‘Facing death is a form of bravery, but so is facing life.’
On the day of the Jewel Voice Broadcast in 1945, in which Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender to the Allied forces, bringing an end to World War II, three men, make a pact. Now, seventy years later, the pledge is being fulfilled by American missionary Pastor Billy, gunner's mate Ian Ferguson, and local soldier Liu Zhaohu. However, they are all dead and it’s their souls that are at this reunion.
Once you get past this initial revelation the story is quite conventional, apart from the fact that part of the story is also told by the souls of two dogs, Ghost and Millie.
The story is set in an isolated village in southern China during World War II. It is told by three men who have nothing in common except for their love of Ah Yan, the sparrow. Each of the men has a different name for her, Ian Ferguson calls her Wende, Pastor Billy calls her Stella and Liu Zhaohu refers to her as Ah Yan, which by the way is still not her correct name.
Despite the unconventional way the story is told Zhang Ling does a masterful job of weaving the magical with the realism. There are some harrowing scenes as the brutality of World War II impacts on the lives of the people in this remote village. Interesting too is that the main focus of this story, Ah Yan, does not narrated any of it. We don’t get to hear her point of view at all. This enhances the fact that she has little say in her own destiny and in the end she can’t even tell her own story, she has no voice.
A Single Sparrow is a story of lost love, missed opportunities and regrets. But more importantly it’s the story of one woman’s selflessness no matter what the cost. As Liu Zhaohu points out, ’We entered her life at different stages and all led her to the summit of hope, then left her in our own unique ways, letting her fall into the valley of despair to face life’s storms and clean up the aftermath on her own.’
At times A Single Swallow can be a difficult read. Due partly to the different points of view and also the different names each of the characters has. But in the end it’s worth it. A good story, if not a great one, but a story with a powerful message.
There are stories that have been woven through the labyrinth of history’s most brutal time. Then they leave you with the most vibrant breath of satisfaction that you’ll heave a sigh of relief because at the end of it all, everything is good.
This book did just that. At first, I was emotional about the villagers’ lives when the Japanese invaded their place. The invasion brought a destruction so devastating they ruined the lives of many individuals who found it hard to reconcile in later years. Yet, through tenacity and the kind souls of two foreign characters from America, a soldier and a padri, the life of a little girl was changed forever.
This book has a unique way of telling the story. All three main characters are dead many years ago. They tell their stories as a ghost where Swallow is the connecting thread. This is intriguing and the plot is so well laid out through the chapters narrated by each of the ghost.
I find the sprawling space with the rural folks in the Chinese village called Sishiyi Bu (forty-one steps) extremely attractive. I would love to visit that place one day. Strangely though, I can’t find any details of the village when I tried to google for more information.
It takes a lot for a book to get 5 stars from me, but I loved this book. Hearing from each of 3 different men whose lives were intertwined in WW2 in China, and the effect their actions - and lack of communication - had on the woman they all loved which cost here dearly. It was beautifully written and my heart went out to the heroine who was so misled, albeit unintentionally much of the time, but her quiet strength and sense of survival was inspiring and heartbreaking in equal measures. Well worth a read - and clearly very well translated too.
This isn't just a novel, it's poetry. Translated from the native tongue of the author, nothing is lost, if anything has benefited by having a refreshing combination of vocabulary put before us to taste. Like a gifted artist or photographer can capture and stun their audience with their portrayal of an horrific event Zhang Ling manages to see the beauty that has crept through the cracks created by war while delicately handling some of the atrocities that were endured. The tale of how 3 complete strangers with nothing in common at birth were brought together for a time and shared a crucial part of history. Beautifully written.
Worth investigating a while to get into this deliciously complex novel, written in a style that's very different from the common norm for today's English speaking readers. The concept of ghosts returning to a modern day China where they first met during the second world war could sound trite or odd - but the story is so elegantly written and the characters so well developed that it's easy to forget the initial premise. This is truly a delightful story that I can wholly recommend.
I've just finished this book and what a wonderful story. A story that covers a grim period of war it's told from different perspectives through three main characters. This book was a pleasure to read, joyous, sad, uplifting and at times I was moved to tears. It was difficult to put down and I couldn't wait to carry on reading to find out how each life touched and impacted on each other. I was sorry to finish it even though it was taken through to a natural conclusion.
I found this novel difficult to read at first, but I am pleased I pushed through to understand this very Chinese story. It is a complex plot revolving around one woman and three men across decades. If you are used to reading modern novels which have a linear narrative and plot, you will struggle with this story. But if you stay with it and embrace the Chinese cultufre ancient and modern you will be rewarded with a beautiful story about love and loss.
It is not often I award a book five stars but A Single Swallow is a worthy winner. What starts of as a love story between three men and one woman, quickly becomes an amazing journey into China during the Japanese invasion of the second world war and the after. Ling is a gifted story teller who brings her characters and environments to life with her descriptions. A book that will stay with you for a long time - highly recommended.
Well written, lovely story but it is also strange. It starts of by being narrated by a spirit then his spirit friends join him once they die and they talk about their pasts which all connect around one woman. At one point the dog also talks to the spirit of her dead dog partner. I couldnt put it down though and the story does flow well once you get into it. Worth reading even just for the strange factor.
I really enjoyed this unusual story of three men , writing after they passed on , about a girl they all knew in China. They recount their lives and how they came to know the girl, but all have her a different name. The writing is beautiful and tells the story from the heart. It is also quite sad, but gives an insight to Chinese life. A fantastic book I really recommend.