Finding the Way
Written mostly in flashback, Ng’s lyrical debut is the story of Lao Tzu’s vibrant and turbulent life during the 6th century BC. In the beginning of the novel, Lao Tzu is an old man who is captured in a military camp. Readers meet him riding into the camp on the back of a water buffalo. The captain of the camp is at first understandably untrusting, for spies take all manner of guises in his world. But he soon realizes that the old man is who he claims to be—the renowned scholar Lao Tzu—and he quickly commands a scribe to come and record his tale of escape from the royal Zhou palace. Lao Tzu and the captain’s tales are closely linked, to the captain’s astonishment, proving to him that The Way has many wandering paths that diverge and intersect but all have a larger purpose in life.
Ng’s novel is a superbly written tale, full of intrigue and drama and rich with cultural narrative. All of the main characters are vivid and multidimensional, and even the secondary characters are distinct and memorable. I think some of the tertiary characters get a little lost, but even they are not just faceless beings in a crowd.
The writing itself is lovely. There are so many turns of phrase throughout this novel that are simply pretty that I took quite a long time to read this, just because I spent a lot of time highlighting things as I read. The philosophical discussions embedded within are welcome food for thought, and I learned a lot about Taoism. It piqued my interest to learn more, which I think is the highest praise I can give to any book: that it inspired me to go learn something new because of it. Highly recommended.