Oracle Bone

By (author): Lydia Kwa

A magic-realist novel set in seventh-century China featuring ghosts, martial arts, and the transformative oracle bone.

Life in seventh-century China teems with magic, fox spirits, and demons; there is a fervent belief that the extraordinary resides within the lives of both commoners and royalty. During the years when the empress Wu Zhao gains ascendancy in the Tang court, her evil-minded lover Xie becomes obsessed with finding and possessing the oracle bone, a magical object that will bestow immortal powers on him. Standing in his way is Qilan, an eccentric Daoist nun who rescues an orphaned girl named Ling from being sold into slavery; Qilan takes her under her wing, promising to train her so she may avenge her parents’ murders. In another part of the city, a young monk named Harelip questions his faith and his attraction to other men as he helps the elder monk Xuanzang to complete his translation of the Heart Sutra, the sacred Buddhist scripture. Meanwhile, as the mysteries and powers of the missing oracle bone are revealed, it remains to be seen whether Qilan will be able to stop Xie from gaining possession of the magical bone, and at what cost.

This extraordinary magic-realist novel by Singapore-born author Lydia Kwa employs and subverts traditional tropes of Chinese mythology to tell a tale of greed, faith, and female empowerment with a wickedly modern sensibility.


Lydia Kwa

Lydia Kwa was born in Singapore but moved to Toronto to begin studies in Psychology at the University of Toronto in 1980. After finishing her graduate studies in Clinical Psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, she moved to Calgary, Alberta; then to Vancouver, BC, and has lived and worked here on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples since 1992.

Kwa has published two books of poetry (The Colours of Heroines, 1992; sinuous, 2013) and four novels (This Place Called Absence, 2000; The Walking Boy, 2005 and 2019; Pulse, 2010 and 2014; Oracle Bone, 2017). Her next novel, A Dream Wants Waking, will be published by Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak & Wynn, in Fall 2023. A third book of poetry from time to new will be published by Gordon Hill Press in Fall 2024.

She won the Earle Birney Poetry Prize in 2018; and her novels have been nominated for several awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Fiction.

She has also exhibited her artwork at Centre A (2014) and Massy Art Gallery (2018) and has self-published two poetry-visual art chapbooks. An essay “The Wheel of Life: From Paradigm to Presence” appears in the art catalogue In the Present Moment: Buddhism, Contemporary Art, and Social Practice by Haema Sivanesan (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2022).


What a refreshing context through which to relocate the imagination. Lydia Kwa has reconstructed a tantalizing historical and mythological cosmology that is a reminder of our liminal spirit world. Collating a narrative of love, magic, power, and tradition Kwa performs an oracular story divining her way through a supernatural world of hybrid animas and shapeshifters to reveal adjacent truths of consciousness we usually only intuit. Oracle Bone is a poignant reminder that the imagination is real and its stories are crucial to an understanding of how we desire our world. -Fred Wah, Canada’s former Parliamentary Poet Laureate
A crackerjack read … at once richly imaginative and deeply human, a compelling narrative drawing the reader with both the fantastic and the familiar. –National Post
In Oracle Bone, Lydia Kwa creates a transfixing narrative that bears the intimate familiarity of a dream with the grandeur of a historical epic. Her prose has the precision of fine embroidery, honing in on small moments and making delicate connections to deliver a wondrous world where magic is possible. -Doretta Lau, author of How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?
Kwa’s unadorned prose maintains a rich, cinematic vigor, leaning on historical literary traditions without veering into exoticism … Main protagonist Ling’s transformative journey from enslavement to warriorhood by way of supernatural martial arts masterfully explores timely themes of gender empowerment and identity in the process. –This Magazine
A beautiful and moving dream of old Chang’an, deliciously and fully conceived. Lydia Kwa’s Oracle Bone is at once a fantasy and a memory, recalling the fertile meeting of Daoism and Buddhism in old China with subtle yet potent implications for our present relations with the Earth and everything that lives upon it. This reader finds particular delight in the ways Kwa has breathed life into a fox spirit, a Daoist nun, a corrupt yet compelling empress, and an orphan girl who wants to avenge the unjust killing of her parents. Wide-awake to Chinese imperial history, traditional storytelling, kung-fu movies, and TCM, this novel is a must-read from a brilliant contemporary novelist. -Larissa Lai, author of When Fox is a Thousand and Salt Fish Girl
An epic and ambitious novel that’s a skillful blend of magical realism and historical fiction, with notes of epic fantasy and mythology as well, to create a book that, above all, never ceases to transport you utterly to a different time and place. –Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian


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256 Pages
9.00in * 6.00in * 0.56in


October 01, 2017


Arsenal Pulp Press



Book Subjects:

FICTION / Historical / General

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