Binu and the Great Wall

“… in its own curious way, is a wonderful read – with all of a fairy tale’s leaps and turns and queer, vivid images…rich as a piece of brocade, by turns violent and forgiving, harsh and tender” Kirsty Gunn, Observer

“The painterly quality of Tong’s words is striking” Bettany Hughes, The Times

“A gripping, insightful depiction of the lives of commoners under the Qin Dynasty…A tragic tale of female strength, and, ultimately, love” Katie Samuel, Time Out

In Peach village, crying is forbidden. But as a child, Binu never learnt to hide her tears. Shunned by the villagers, she faced a bleak future, until she met Qiliang, an orphan who offered her his hand in marriage.

Then one day Qiliang disappears. Binu learns that he has been transported hundreds of miles and forced to labour on a project of terrifying ambition and scale — the building of the Great Wall.

Binu is determined to find and save her husband. Inspired by her love, she sets out on an extraordinary journey towards Great Swallow mountain, with only a blind frog for company. What follows is an unforgettable story of passion, hardship and magical adventure.

Su TongSu Tong is the author of the highly acclaimed Raise the Red Lantern and My Life As Emperor. He was born and lives in China.
  1. Ophelia Phillips (June 4, 2008 at 4:58 pm) :

    Wow. This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but I did really enjoy it, and the images in the story were at times really beautiful. I had thought someone, because the words fairystory were used on the cover, that it would be more innocent; and also that the frog would have a much different role to play. The story style is grittier and more down to earth than I’d expected – people have rough lives, bodily functions aren’t neatly avoided, and no happy endings are guaranteed. It some ways it’s very ‘realistic’ – an old man tells Binu at one point “Who told you to marry an honest man? Things don’t turn out well for honest men.” Quite different to a lot of our western fairystories. In part it even seems to break down the idea of myths. Binu grows up in Peach Village, where the ‘Rulebook for Daughters’ tells them that they mustn’t cry through their eyes, or else they’ll die – an idea that developed locally after a massacre of locals who were mourning and crying. So when Binu starts crying through her eyes, she thinks her death is imminent and gets a lad to prepare her grave. And yet she doesn’t die, which makes the boy angry.

    But at the same time, it’s not completely realistic – women can cry through their toes and hair, and tears gush like rivers from Binu, so it’s definitely in myth territory. From the introduction, I understand that this is an old myth in China, but Su Tong has written it up again. So it’s a modern rendition, but the style still makes it feel like an old tale. And from a historical point of view it’s interesting to experience a little of life in China then – the massive waste of human life building the great wall, the way people were treated, the lords and kings and assasins…

    I like the cover design as well on a random side note!!!

  2. Sheepette (June 17, 2008 at 9:04 am) :

    I hate to admit it but I struggled with this book and the worst part about it is I don’t know why.

    That said it was a good book of one woman’s love and determination to find her husband at whatever cost to herself.

    Binu meets a colourful array of characters, all are very unsympathetic to her plight, except the frog, who leaves her about half way through and reappears again in her time of need. I think all the characters she meets are unsympathetic because they are trying to look after themselves.

    When Binu got to 5 grain city, the book for me got more interesting.

    I found Binu could be a hypocrite at times. She complains that no-one will help her, but when help comes along, she is reluctant to take it and almost rude with it.

    I was also wondering about the myth behind this book, It must have been passed on through time, but I was wondering who told it to who and how long they had to spare when telling it.

  3. Cassiopaeia (June 19, 2008 at 10:14 pm) :

    What a weird and wonderful story. I am not usually a reader of mythology but those that I am familiar with are usually stories of superhuman feats and achievements of which no mortal would be capable. Although Binu’s mammoth journey in search of her husband Qiliang is indeed an amazing feat, for me it was all the extraordinary happenings, meetings and confrontations along the way that made this such an intriguing read. The earthy descriptions were also unexpected for this type of tale. The narrative describes much of what befell Binu on her journey through the prefectures of China to Great Swallow Mountain and eventually to the Great Wall; nothing about her journey is straightforward. Some of the detail in the opening of the story was unclear although this made little difference to the overall story, I found myself re-reading the beginning several times in order to clarify certain aspects. As to Binu herself, to start with I found her strange and mystifying but as her travels progressed I became more and more involved in her unreal predicament and almost felt I was on the road with her. A very unusual and enjoyable read, one that I would not normally gravitate towards, thank you canongatebooks for yet another good read.

    To me the translation of the Preface was awkward and didn’t sufficiently manage to convey the author’s thoughts. It appeared to be too literal and much was lost in this short piece.

  4. CITIBELLE (June 28, 2008 at 8:12 pm) :

    I am new to chinese mythology and found this book harsh and disturbing at times. But predudice
    can find many outlets and where better is it portrayed than in a countrys mythology and even fairytales. I wont easily forget this fable or the book. I found it fascinating but not comfortable reading.

  5. Spencer (April 29, 2009 at 4:21 am) :

    This was the hardest book in this series for me so far. The culture is so different from my point of view that i found it very difficult to understand the motives of anyone more than half the time. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I did. It was very challenging for me and it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the differences. This book is filled with beauty and brutality and endurance. I’d recommend it if you want a challenge!

  6. Bruce Humes » Blog Archive » King Gesar: Tibetan Epic in Modern Chinese Prose (November 23, 2009 at 2:31 am) :

    [...] take on Penelope of The Odyssey), Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (Baba Yaga as per Dubravka Ugresic), and Binu and the Great Wall (by China’s Su [...]

  7. melody (February 19, 2010 at 8:04 am) :

    It was a deep determination for Binu to find her husband Quilang because of unconditional love for him. I think she do all of her trials and hardships just to find her beloved husband at all cost. I’m really wanted to read this novel by Su Tong and his other novels…..

  8. Alex (January 5, 2013 at 8:26 pm) :

    The book, in its English publication, is not the product of Su Tong alone, as it is a translation from the Chinese.

    Would it be possible for Canongate to include, in the Author section on this page, one line about Howard Goldblatt?

    Thanks!

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