Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Soul Mountain, Gao Xingjian

When I decide a long book is worth reading, be it fiction or nonfiction, I approach it in short takes. I am a slow reader -- I do not skip, I read every word -- none of this speed reading, first sentences of paragraphs. I am dogged and determined ... IF I beieve the author truly is saying something worthwhile. So it's been for about a month as I chipped away at Gao Xingjian's 50+ pagae SOUL MOUNTAIN. This is not an easy book. It is fiction but has no narrative line, really, and the narrator and main character shifts pronouns frequently.

Essentially it is a journey of a Beijing writer who is out of favor and has decided to wander around southern China, in the mountains -- the eastern edge of the Himalayan range ... approximately where I was last fall, Yunan, Schuzwan, Guilain [mostly misspelled], mountains and rivers. He tells myths, he tells history, he seems to pick up a lot of sexually free and willing young women, he wanders by rivers and into towns with desolate hostels, he mets Daoist priests and stays in a panda sanctuar. He rides a lot of buses and walks a lot, sometimes goes by boat down rivers. But all the while he writes from the perspective of those who have liived through the cultural revolution, often been deported to farms or been "re-educated"

Gao who recently won a Nobel Prize for Literature, left China a good many years ago and settled in France, became a French citizen and lives in Paris. The China he writes about is from about twenty years ago -- it is not the capitalist China that I saw with busloads of tourists -- middle class Chinese who suddenly can afford to be tourists. But one can extrapolate that today's Chinese know of the period in the book vividly from either their own experiences, or if younge, from their parents. The book was worth the time it took to read, the images and impressions are strong and seem true. Now I will turn to some short books for a week or two.

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