The Ten Thousand Things

Written by John Spurling
Review by Jeff Westerhoff

Wang Meng is a low-level government worker in 14th-century China. A gifted painter who is devoted to his art, Wang becomes entangled in this turbulent era of Chinese history, a time when opposing military forces are trying to overthrow the Yuan Dynasty. He gets caught up in the fighting between two powerful bandit chiefs, Zhu and Zhang, who wish to take control of the country.

John Spurling is a well-known British playwright and art critic, and he uses his art background in developing the main character and his obsession with painting pictures, evoking precision and depth; his paintings come to life with vivid pictures of trees, waterfalls, and fields of beauty.

The author’s knowledge and understanding of the political turmoil in China in the 14th century are excellent. He did a masterful job of drawing me into this era of Chinese history. The culture and politics of this tumultuous time are clearly presented and bring the period to life. The characters are credible and products of their time. 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. I highly recommend this novel.