Soul Mountain

by Gao Xingjian | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0060936231 Global Overview for this book
Registered by HoserLauren of Burlington, Ontario Canada on 4/1/2007
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3 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by HoserLauren from Burlington, Ontario Canada on Sunday, April 01, 2007
I found this in the used book store. The author is a nobel prize winner!

From Amazon:
As one of Gao Xingjian's characters remarks, if a fiction writer could know the true stories of the people he passes on the street, he would be amazed. Surely the Nobel laureate's own story, which forms the basis of Soul Mountain, is worthy of amazement. In 1983 Gao was diagnosed with lung cancer, the disease that had killed his father. At the same time, he had been threatened with arrest for his counterrevolutionary writings and was preparing to flee Beijing for the remote regions of southwest China. Shortly before his departure, however, the condemned man got at least a partial reprieve: a second set of x-rays revealed no cancer at all. On the heels of this extraordinary redemption, he began the circuitous journey that would lead him to the sacred (and possibly mythical) mountain of Lingshan--and to this daring, historically resonant novel.

A destination chosen arbitrarily, at the suggestion of a fellow traveler, the elusive Lingshan becomes rich with meaning for the narrator of Soul Mountain. Meanwhile, the narrator himself shows a tendency to go forth and multiply. First he divides into You and I. Then You generates yet a third voice, a somewhat simple but intense young woman named She, followed by He--and none of these personae can resist the elemental lure of the sacred site. Indeed, the search for Lingshan becomes a metaphor for all spiritual striving:

Would it be better to go along the main road? It will take longer travelling by the main road? After making some detours you will understand in your heart? Once you understand in your heart you will find it as soon as you look for it? The important thing is to be sincere of heart? If your heart is sincere then your wish will be granted?

Along the way, I and You mourn the devastations of the Cultural Revolution, when thousands of monuments, temples, and graves were reduced to rubble. The obliteration of these reminders of the dead becomes a torment to the narrators of the novel, who struggle to assert their individuality--itself a proscribed act in Communist China--against what they see as a false and brutal ideal that has swept away history, literature, and tradition as decisively as it has destroyed the ancient forests. (At one point Gao describes the sad spectacle of the few remaining pandas, who wander a shrinking woodland wearing electronic transmitters.) Seamlessly translated by the Australian scholar Mabel Lee, Soul Mountain is a masterpiece of self-observation set against a soulful denunciation of "progress" and practicality.

Journal Entry 2 by HoserLauren from Burlington, Ontario Canada on Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I got 60 pages into this one and had to stop. It was just too slow and there wasn't really any build in the story. I do have to admit however that it is beautifully written. The descriptions are amazing. Unfortunately the wonderful writing isn't enough to save this book. The author writes in both first and second person, which is kind of hard to understand. The "You" of the book keeps telling different Chinese folk stories while the "I" of the book seems to tell more of adventures.
I don't seem to have much luck with award winning books. They are all too literary enough for me, and don't give me enough motivation to continue reading the story.

Journal Entry 3 by HoserLauren from Burlington, Ontario Canada on Saturday, May 12, 2007
I sent this from Buffalo back to Toronto today to Geisha lol It was for the Literature in Translation swap. Hope you enjoy it more than I did!!

Journal Entry 4 by geishabird from Toronto, Ontario Canada on Friday, May 18, 2007
Thank you, Lauren, this looks excellent.

Journal Entry 5 by geishabird from Toronto, Ontario Canada on Thursday, September 06, 2007
This is a very strange, very hypnotic, very other-worldly book. I often wonder about books which are translated into English from Asian languages, since the linguistics must be so different. I often wonder if it gives the writing a certain ethereal, untouchable quality. I have found this to be the case with the only other translated Asian writer I'm familiar with, Haruki Murakami. Or perhaps it's an existing quality of Asian literature itself which is able to bridge the cultural gap.

At any rate, I found reading Soul Mountain to be a unique experience. At one point not too far in I realized that one has to simply let the book take you where it wants to go. I usually don't like comparing books to other books - it seems so clichéd - but I often found myself thinking of this book as the Chinese Ulysses. Gao does to narrative and POV what Joyce did to language, it seems to me.

I was fascinated learning about the Cultural Revolution and ancient Chinese history and how they have clashed and exploded upon encountering one another. Modern China is a remarkably complicated and conflicted society. This book gives a very clear picture of that.

Overall, an unsettling but satisfying book. Always good to visit the unknown now and then; it gives you a clearer perspective on the old and familiar. Thanks for sharing this.

Journal Entry 6 by geishabird from Toronto, Ontario Canada on Saturday, September 08, 2007
Enroute to rootmartin, who claimed it in the Double Happiness Asian Swap at BookObsessed.

(Many thanks to Support for fixing the error in this journal entry!)

Journal Entry 7 by rootmartin from Wellesley, Massachusetts USA on Saturday, September 15, 2007
Thanks so much! I received this in the mail yesterday.

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