cover image Tongwan City

Tongwan City

Gao Jianqun, trans. from the Chinese by Eric Mu. CN Times Books (, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-62774-006-7

Jianqun (The Last Hun) returns to ancient China to depict the exciting but short, life of the Xiongnu warlord Helian Bobo from his birth in a wagon to his death in a sheep enclosure. In the time between those moments, he survives the massacre of his family and betrayal by allies to unify his people into a force able to carve out for a time an impressive empire and found the eponymous city, only known city of the nomadic Xiongnu. Along the way he will demonstrate a prodigious talent for war and shameless betrayal. The accomplishments of the founder of the short-lived Xia empire is contrasted with the more lasting legacy of the monk Kumarajiva, then revolutionizing Chinese Buddhism. Although the link between Hun and Xiongnu is open to question, the author uses that connection and Helian Bobo's supposed blood relationship with Attila to draw illuminating parallels between the careers of the two warlords, both operating in times of imperial collapse. Translated by Eric Mu, this novel ambles back and forth through time, leaping from one event to another to produce an astonishingly compact epic tale. Nevertheless the book provides an exciting entryway into the complex and relatively obscure history of ancient China. (Oct.)