The Ten Thousand Things

The Ten Thousand Things

by John Spurling


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Winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

In the turbulent final years of the Yuan Dynasty, Wang Meng is a low-level bureaucrat, employed by the government of Mongol conquerors established by the Kublai Khan. Though he wonders about his own complicity wit this regime—the Mongols, after all, are invaders—he prefers not to dwell on his official duties, choosing instead to live the life of the mind.

Wang is an extraordinarily gifted artist. His paintings are at once delicate and confident; in them, one can see the wind blowing through the trees, the water rushing through rocky valleys, the infinite expanse of China’s natural beauty. But this is not a time for sitting still, and as The Ten Thousand Things unfolds, we follow Wang as he travels through an empire in turmoil. In his wanderings, he encounters, among many memorable characters, other master painters of the period, including the austere eccentric Ni Zan, a fierce female warrior known as the White Tigress who will recruit him as a military strategist, and an ugly young Buddhist monk who rises from beggary to extraordinary heights.

The Ten Thousand Things is rich with exquisite observations, and John Spurling endows every description—every detail—with the precision and depth that the real-life Wang Meng brought to his painting. But it is also a novel of fated meetings, grand battles, and riveting drama, and in its seamless fusion of the epic and the intimate, it achieves a truly singular beauty. A novel that deserves to be compared to the classic Chinese novels that inspired it, The Ten Thousand Things is nothing short of a literary event.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781468310122
Publisher: The Overlook Press
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John Spurling is the author of many novels and plays,
including The Ten Thousand Things, winner of the 2015 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, also available from Overlook. His plays have been performed on stage, television,
and radio, including at the National Theatre. He lives in London and Arcadia,
Greece, with his wife, biographer Hilary Spurling.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Enchanting . . . Mr. Spurling traverses [the plot of The Ten Thousand Things] without a shred of the grandiosity or portentousness often found in historical fiction. Wang Meng’s fascinating life seems to flow ahead with the grace of a leaf on a stream. He is always richly attentive to the state of the world—and what he philosophically calls its ‘mere tangle of circumstances’—as it passes by.” —Wall Street Journal

“One of the greatest pleasures of this novel is seeing fourteenth-century China come vibrantly alive. The countryside is painted in rich evocative detail and readers will be completely transported . . . It is striking that a novel set hundreds of years ago in China can have lessons that resonate even in our times . . . The beauty of John Spurling’s novel is that it is at once an incredibly detailed story and a sweeping view of the times . . . The Ten Thousand Things is not unlike a beautiful Wang Meng landscape painting—full of intricate gorgeous details that together coalesce into one stunning work of art.” —Bookbrowse
  "The great strength of this novel is not so much the plot but the rich detail that sets the reader int he middle of China. As Wang paints waterfalls and witnesses beheadings, Spruling paints an exquisite story of a deeply decent men and his surroundings. Spurling's novel is a work of art in itself. A thoroughly enjoyable literary sojourn by a master of historical fiction." —Kirkus, Starred Review

I was amazed by The Ten Thousand Things, and by John Spurling’s powerful imagination—with ten thousand details, he has brought the ancient Chinese artist Wang Meng to life in beautiful prose.” —Xinran, author of Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love
“In this immersive tale of a landscape artist’s life, written with restrained lyricism, John Spurling has also given us an entertaining and insightful study about the art of Nature, and the nature of Art.” —Tan Twan Eng
[Combines] the delicacy of an old Chinese landscape painting with the brutality of Chinese history . . . The narrative resounds with the vivid detail and the ever-changing tides of war and politics, art and nature.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The Ten Thousand Things is a truly remarkable achievement. In writing about the fourteenth-century Chinese artist Wang Meng, John Spurling has evoked a world that seems utterly alive and relevant today. Dramatic, absorbing, tender and profound, Spurling's book is written with a level of exquisite descriptive detail that makes the reader feel as if led into the enchanted and forbidding landscape of one of Wang Meng's own real-life works. Anybody who feels despondent about the future of fiction should read and take heart from this extraordinary and wonderful book.” —Miranda Seymour
This is mostly a quiet novel, but a rich one . . . Readers will feel lucky to watch [Wang Meng's] journey and share his thoughts.” —Booklist
“This is an extraordinary novel. Spurling brings together his strengths as a dramatist, an art critic, and a novelist. It is an impressive combination that gives a tone of authenticity to his absorbing story and adds to its enjoyment. I look forward to the film.” —Michael Holroyd
“Wang Meng is one of the most fascinating figures in Chinese history. In this lucid and brilliant novel, John Spurling uses him as a key character to recreate the end of an empire.  A vivid evocation of a turbulent era with echoes of debates today about loyalty, choices, and artistic integrity.” —Rana Mitter

“Like one of Wang's paintings, this story is a highly crafted masterpiece that cannot be enjoyed in one sitting . . . Even a reader who starts out with no interest in China or Chinese artists will be sure to return to this story over the years, as its truths remain timeless.” —South China Morning Post

“This sweeping novel should be on your bookshelf if you wish to learn more about China’s history and feel the pain of those forced to live under totalitarian rule.” —Historical Novel Society

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The Ten Thousand Things: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
What are the Ten Thousand Things that the artist, government official, and philosopher Wang Meng says are “Mind” at the conclusion of this remarkable story which takes place in 14th Century China? They are everything sublime and temporal, every experience one could possibly experience combined with the exquisite expression of nature through art. Stories abound in this rich text of Wang’s life events and stories others have told him that have really occurred or are tales of Chinese history, mythology, and art. Characters are presented with their highly or poorly developed skills of dealing with the political troubles besetting China at the time and the mix is entrancing. China of this time is experiencing the attack of rebels on Kublai Khan’s Mongolian rule, the beginning of the movement that will eventually usher in the Ming Dynasty. Wang is so disgusted by what he experiences as a low-level bureaucrat that he escapes to the solitude of the mountains to draw and paint. There he loses the jade ring he inherited from a notable and talented relative; the loss seems to affect his ability to paint and he wonders about the power behind objects and their connection to nature. Is the artist one with all he experiences and expresses? One tale describes an artist who appears to be almost a madman who throws paint upon paper placed on the floor and dances upon it until what he wants to create appears. After reflection, while watching, Wang sees the genius of the technique and realizes how limited his skills and paintings are. Mind creates through multiple and even unimaginable avenues! The concept of student and master is explored through multiple stories, revealing the possibilities of openness or closure depending on one’s perception. The same might be seen in the political spectrum; things are not always what may be perceived by participants or observers. On and on it goes, but what is most remarkable about this collection of tales is the beauty of discovery in each scene, in each painting, in each conversation, in each conflict, and so on. The characters are complex and simple, revealing the overlay of perception and motivation, again not always so clear and sometimes as clear as an epiphany of revelation. The Ten Thousand Things is a literary masterpiece that reveals classical philosophy and art of 14th Century China; it is bound to be best seller and a classic novel that will remain a timeless work beloved of its many readers.