Water Touching Stone

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Water Touching Stone, Eliot Pattison features the leading character of his Edgar Award-winning first novel, The Skull Mantra (1999). Shan Tao Yun, a former Chinese government investigator once exiled to a Tibetan labor camp, is now free. His austere life is spent meditating in a secluded hermitage until the Tibetan monks send him on a mission across the mountains into Xinjiang. There he must unmask the killer of Lau, a beloved teacher, and at the same time prepare her soul for reincarnation. Accompanied by an aging healer and an otherworldly lama, he soon finds himself in a multiethnic borderland of high desert plateaus, peopled by the remnants of hostile Muslim tribes.

Shan is guided to Lau’s body by Jakli, a fearless young woman of mixed ancestry, who introduces him to her nomadic Kazakh clan and a way of life he has never known. The situation becomes more complicated as the bodies of slaughtered orphans, Lau’s students, begin to appear.

Graying and middle-aged, Shan is an unlikely hero who struggles against the paralyzing fear of being recaptured by his former countrymen. As an outsider, he belongs neither to Tibet nor Xinjiang, yet he is able to draw upon his knowledge of Chinese bureaucracy to work against government corruption and expose the secrets of the hidden caves.

Pattison, who has traveled extensively in China and has published books and articles on international issues, exhibits some impressive research. In Water Touching Stone, he immerses himself in the fascinating life of this remote region and its conflicting cultures. This is quick-moving and powerful fiction, rich in images and local atmosphere.