Book #165: Brush of the Gods

Brush of the Gods -- coverHere’s a mysterious, beautifully written story about China’s most famous painter, Wu Daozi (689-759). While in calligraphy class, he was unable to form the letters properly, but worms, flowers, horses, fish — all flowed from his pen with majestic speed and beauty. Nicknamed “flying sleeves” because of how quickly he composed his beautiful subjects, Daozi painted everywhere he could — on walls and temples and eventually at the emperor’s palace — but he never lost his humility. When, amazingly, his paintings are so lifelike that they fly off the page, the monks are skeptical and accuse Daozi of boasting. He loses followers. Only the children believe in his magic, and when the Emperor commissions a painting for the palace wall, Daozi works on the mural until he grows into an old man.  At the end of the story, legend says, he paints a marvelous depiction of paradise, walks into his own creation, and vanishes from sight.

This is an extremely original and beautiful story, with some of the most elegant writing I’ve seen all year.  It’s one of those quiet books that’s easily overlooked by award committees because of its complicated nature, nonlinear storytelling with unresolved, magical elements, and mystical subject matter. But the book has so much. You can read it many times over and find something new to talk about — the afterlife, artistic integrity, single-minded devotion to one practice.  The list goes on and on.  To summarize what this book is about destroys some of the magic.  I’ll leave you with some images and text so you can experience the wonder on your own (and please enlarge the images so you can read the text.  It’s exquisitely written).  ABZ

Brush of the Gods -- in school


Brush of the Gods -- flying sleeves


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