Thursday 9 August 2012

Gao, Xingjian "Soul Mountain"


Gao, Xingjian "Soul Mountain" (Chinese: 灵山, língshān) – 1989

An extraordinary book. A biography, a search for someone's soul in a world where the individual means nothing. A collection of stories from the now to the past, jumping to and fro but after a while, you get the hang of it. An introduction to the characters that are "I" and "you", "he", and "she" but they all seem to intermingle. A story about a traveler who discovers his own country and thereby discovers himself. And on the side, he introduces the reader to a lot of Chinese culture, religion, politics and history as well as his own story, the story of his father, his ancestors.

I also liked his insight into many problems that are out of his way, you would think he has other problems of his own to think about but, no, he comes up with quotes like "...when people assault nature [sic] nature inevitably takes revenge." or "... nature is not frightening, it's people who are frightening!"

One of my favourite passages: "I am perpetually searching for meaning, but what in fact is meaning? Can I stop people from constructing this big dam as an epitaph for the annihilation of their selves? I can only search for the self of the I who is small and insignificant like a grain of sand. I may as well write a book on the human self without worrying whether it will be published. But then of what consequence is it whether one book more, or one book less, is written? Hasn't enough culture been destroyed? Does humankind need so much culture? And moreover, what is culture?"

And then, as an Esperanto speaker myself, I love it when I find my language in a book: "He had a deep voice and could sing L'Internationale in Esperanto."

This is certainly not an easy read, something you read on the side to hear a "nice story". The author challenges you to try to understand his ways, his culture's ways. And by accompanying him on his search for Soul Mountain at the source of the You River, you can find a lot about yourself, as well.

From the back cover:
" In 1983, Chinese playwright, critic, fiction writer, and painter Gao Xingjian was diagnosed with lung cancer and faced imminent death. But six weeks later, a second examination revealed there was no cancer -- he had won 'a reprieve from death'. Faced with a repressive cultural environment and the threat of a spell in a prison farm, Gao fled Beijing and began a journey of 15,000 kilometers into the remote mountains and ancient forests of Sichuan in southwest China. The result of this epic voyage of discovery is Soul Mountain.

Bold, lyrical, and prodigious, Soul Mountain probes the human soul with an uncommon directness and candor and delights in the freedom of the imagination to expand the notion of the individual self."

Xingjian Gao received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000 "for an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama".

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.