Page 83. " we caught sight of a vast slope dotted with Tibetan and Chinese tombs "

Chinese tombs are quite different from Western ones. Typically Western graves are submerged in the ground, with a plain tombstone marking the location. Chinese graves, by contrast, are on the surface, with an elaborate stone structure surrounding the tomb. The stone structure is usually round, and can sometimes feature a small garden or pond. Additionally, Chinese tombs usually feature a portrait of the deceased, as well as a memorial plaque with messages from well-wishers. The placement and design of Chinese graves varies based on the deceased's religious beliefs.


Page 84. " You speak with a Chengdu accent! "

The Chinese language has over 40 dialects, or regional variations.

Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province, and has a population of over 14 million people. It is one of Western China's economic powerhouses.  Dai Sijie, the author, is from Chengdu.



Page 88. " laid down bunches of wild flowers "
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeRedbud - Credit: sballal
Orchid parts
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeOrchid parts - Credit: Fenny83

The wild flowers include redbuds and orchids, both indigenous to warm temperate areas.  Both terms describe a family of diverse flowers, all with similar traits. 

Orchids have a wide range of buds and multiple shoots of stems.  Redbuds typically have simple heart-shaped leaves.


Page 89. " she knelt down by her grandfather's grave. She prostrated herself several times "

Chinese culture fosters a deep sense of reverence for elders, a tradition instilled by Confucius. Even in death, family members are still expected to bow and pray to their elders in their graves. Family members are also expected to burn "hell" money (incense) to assist the deceased's passage to heaven, in addition to undertaking a variety of other rituals.

In contrast with Western customs of laying flowers, Chinese families typically bring food to the grave and leave it there for the deceased to "consume." These practices can vary based on the deceased's particular religious beliefs.


Page 92. " she had liver spots on the back of her hands "

Liver spots are flat, brown-black spots that appear on skin in sun-exposed areas of the body. They have nothing to do with the liver.


Hands Across the Ages

Page 93. " the bellow of a buffalo is disagreeably harsh "

We need an audio recording of an Asian buffalo.  Please contact if you have one.


Wild Asia Water Buffalo, Thailand

Page 94. " They're waiting for the blood to congeal "
Blood Tofu
Creative Commons AttributionBlood Tofu - Credit: Takeaway

It is common in many cultures to consume the blood of slaughtered animals in some form, either by cooking it, drinking or eating it raw, or letting it coagulate and then consuming it. Usually strength, courage or intelligence is associated with the ingestion of blood.

A popular Chinese dish, "Blood Tofu", is normally made of coagulated duck or pig's blood. In this case, coagulated buffalo blood is cut into rectangles and eaten.

You can see blood tofu on the right side of the dish pictured. It looks a bit like a square beet (tastes different though).

Page 95. " perhaps it was a gillyflower "

The term gillyflower covers a range of scented flowering plants, including the carnation, clove pink, stock, and wallflower.

Page 97. " they performed a dance of exorcism around the fire "
A religious exorcism
Public DomainA religious exorcism - Credit: Gerald Farinas

In its original Greek sense, exorcism means binding by oath, and is typically a religious act only to be performed by priests.  However, many tribes in both Europe and Asia will perform exorcisms as rituals.  The goal of an exorcism is to drive out ghostly demons and spirits, often from a particular person. 

Exorcisms were rarely conducted until the 1900s. In the 1970s, studies showed a massive 750% increase in the practice.  Catholic priests were keen practitioners.  In the case of tribes, there is almost always at least one shaman who oversees magic and expels demons.

Page 99. " On top was our old friend Balzac, with five or six novels, then came Victor Hugo, Stendhal, Dumas, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Romain Rolland, Rousseau, Tolstoy, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, and some English writers, too: Dickens, Kipling, Emily Brontë "

Honoré de Balzac - Considered one of the founders of realism in European literature. His works influenced other writers, including Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, as well as some philosophers.

Balzac is known for his complex, morally ambiguous characters. 


Victor Hugo - French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, visual artist, statesman, and human rights activist. He also advocated the Romantic movement in France. His best works include Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. He was considered a realist.  




 Stendhal - French 19th century author named Marie-Henri Beyle, who often went by his pen-name "Stendhal". He is best known for Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black, 1830) and La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma, 1839). Also considered a realist. 



Alexander Dumas - French author, born into poverty.  He was the grandson of a Haitian slave and a French noble. His famous books include The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne.



Gustave Flaubert  - French author considered one of the Western Greats. He is known for his lifetime devotion to art and style. He began writing at the very early age of eight, later becoming acquainted with Victor Hugo through his writings.

He is best known for his first novel, Madame Bovary.  



Charles Baudelaire – French poet also known as an essayist, art critic, and translator for Edgar Allan Poe. His most famous work is Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil). He influenced a whole generation of poets and is credited with coining the term “modernity.”  



Romain Rolland - French writer most famous for his works in literature and in the theatre. He was a fan of the works of Gandhi, whom he met and befriended. His most famous book is Jean-Christophe.

He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1915. 



Jean-Jacques Rousseau -  Geneva philosopher, writer and composer. He was best known for his contribution to 18th century Romanticism in France. He strongly influenced the French Revolution. He also composed 7 operas and contributed to music theory.

He was made a national hero in France 16 years after his death. 



Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy  - Russian writer considered to be one of the world’s greatest novelists.  War and Peace and Anna Karenina stand among the greatest novels of all time. Tolstoy is known for his complex plots and realist fiction as well as intense moral tones thought to be the result of a spiritual awakening in the 1870s. Tolstoy is said to have had an important impact on leaders such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.  


 War and Peace on Book Drum


Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol – Ukrainian-born Russian dramatist and novelist. His early works such as "The Nose", "Viy", "The Overcoat" and "Nevsky Prospekt" are considered among his best and were influenced by his Ukrainian roots.


Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky – Russian author whose works explore human psychology in the political, social, and spiritual context of 19th century Russian society. Using the voice of the anonymous "underground man", Dostoyevsky wrote Notes from the Underground (1864), which was called the "best overture for existentialism ever written" by Walter Kaufmann.



Charles Dickens  19th century English author, considered by some to be the best writer of the Victorian Period. A celebrity in his own lifetime, none of his novels have ever gone out of print.  


David Copperfield on Book Drum


Rudyard Kipling   English poet and author.  He wrote mainly about British Imperial life in India. His children's stories include The Jungle Book. He won the Nobel Prize in 1907, thereby becoming the first English writer, and the youngest person ever, to receive the award. His reputation has suffered in more recent times because of his Imperialist subject matter.


 Kim on Book Drum


  Emily Brontë  English novelist and poet, best known for her one novel, Wuthering Heights. Her sisters, Anne and Charlotte, were also distinguished authors.


Wuthering Heights on Book Drum