Cover image for Soul mountain = [Ling shan]
Title:
Soul mountain = [Ling shan]
Author:
Gao, Xingjian.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Ling shan. English
Edition:
First Amer. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
xi, 510 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Summary:
A man's journey in the remote areas of southwest China mirror his inner search of "Soul Mountain".
General Note:
Parallel title in Chinese characters.
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
Added Author:
ISBN:
9780066210827
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

In 1983 Chinese playwright, critic, fiction writer, and painter Gao Xingjian (pronounced gow shing-jen) 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" and had been thrown back into the world of the living. Faced with a repressive cultural environment and the threat of a spell in a prison farm, Gao fled Beijing. He traveled to the remote mountains and ancient forests of Sichuan in southwest China and from there back to the east coast, a journey of fifteen thousand kilometers over a period of five months. The results of this epic voyage of discovery is Soul Mountain.

A bold, lyrical, prodigious novel, Soul Mountain probes the human soul with an uncommon directness and candor. Interwoven with the myriad of stories and countless memorable characters -- from venerable Daosit masters and Buddhist nuns to mythical Wild Men, deadly Qichun snakes, and farting buses -- is the narrator's poignant inner journey and search for freedom.

Fleeing the social conformity required by the Communist government, he wanders deep into the regions of the Qiang, Miago, and Yi peoples located on the fringes of Han Chinese civilization and discovers a plethora of different traditions, history, legends, folk songs, and landscapes. Slowly, with the help of memory, imagination, and sensory experience, he reconstructs his personal past. He laments the impact of the Cultural Revolution on the ecology -- both human and physical -- of China. And in a polyphony of narrating selves -- the narrator's "I" spawns a "you," a "she," and a "he," each with a distinct perspective and voice -- the novel delights in the freedom of the imagination to expand the notion of the individual self.

Storytelling saves the narrator from a deep loneliness that is part of the human condition. His search for meaning -- in life, in the journey -- turns up the possibility that there may be no meaning. The elusive Lingshan ("Soul Mountain"), which becomes the object of his quest, never yields up its secrets, but the journey is a rich, strange, provocative, and rewarding one. Soul Mountain is a novel of immense wisdom and profound beauty.


Author Notes

Xingjian Gao was born on January 4, 1940 in Ganzhou, China. As a child, he was encouraged to paint, write and play the violin, and at the age of 17, he attended the Beijing Foreign languages Institute, majoring in French and Literature. He is known as being at the fore of Chinese/French Literature, attempting to revolutionize Chinese literature and art.

At the height of the Cultural Revolution, Gao destroyed all of his early work after being sent to the country for "rehabilitation." His "Preliminary Explorations Into the Techniques of Modern Fiction" caused serious debate in the Chinese literary world by challenging the social realism that was at the core of Chinese literature and art. The authorities condemned his work and Gao was placed under surveillance. He left China for Paris in 1987 and was honored by the French with the title of Chevalier de L'Ordere des Artes et des Lettres.

None of Gao's plays have been performed in China since 1987, when "The Other Shore" had been banned. In 1989, Gao left the Communist party. After the publication of "Fugitives," which was about the reason he left the communist party, Gao was declared "persona noon grata" by the Chinese regime and all of his works banned. On October 12, 2000, Gao won the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first Chinese writer ever to do so. He is well known for his writing as well as his painting and has had exhibitions all over the world.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Not only was Chinese writer Gao Xingjian, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Literature, condemned by the authorities for his "decadent" modernist ideas and forbidden to publish or stage his immensely popular plays during the early 1980s, he was also diagnosed with lung cancer. He readied himself for death, but a second examination granted him a clean bill of health. In light of this miraculous reprieve and rumors of his impending arrest, Gao Xingjian left Beijing and spent five months wandering the forests of central China and following the Chang River. This episodic, loosely autobiographical, philosophical, and spellbinding novel traces just such a journey, illuminating both the wandering hero's mindscape and the dramatic landscapes he traverses. Curiously, Gao Xingjian's unnamed narrator, a writer, addresses his readers as "you," as in: "You can't explain why you're here," a device that induces readers to put themselves in the narrator's place but also makes them accomplices in the narrator's harsh self-evaluations, as though he's pointing his finger in the mirror and saying, "You are weak." His destination is Lingshan, or Soul Mountain, which may or may not exist, but it is the quest that matters, and his descriptions of the wilderness and the people he meets, especially the unhappy or daring women he becomes intimate with, are shimmeringly sensuous and piquantly observant. He revels in the beauty of nature, but he also seeks out stories of Buddhist monks and Taoist priests, shamans and bandits, emperors and musicians, risking arrest for his fascination with China's lush and complex past, which the Communists attempted to brutally eradicate. In one fable-like chapter after another, the tragedies of this vast land--the violence, oppression, and sexism; the clear-cutting of forests, polluting of rivers, and forced extinction of animals; the destruction of temples and suppression of art--are pondered and mourned, as are the moral limitations of the self. Gao Xingjian's masterpiece expresses sorrow and anger, wonder and confusion, humor and metaphysics, lust and tenderness, and a profound longing for meaning and freedom. Donna Seaman


Publisher's Weekly Review

Gao Xingjian was almost unknown in this country when he won this year's Nobel prize. Gao, who lives in exile in Paris, was embroiled in controversy in China in the 1980s because of his plays. This novel is his largest and perhaps most personal work. Around the time Gao's plays were arousing controversy, he was diagnosed with lung cancerDfalsely, as it turned out. The "detestable omniscient self" of the Gao-like narrator sharing these circumstances goes partly underground by getting out of Beijing and going to various underdeveloped regions of China. Officially, Gao is gathering folk songs and tales, but underneath that task we discern a desire to reconnect with the fate of his family, which, like so many others, was fragmented by the revolution. The book itself is narrated in two voices: a rational first person "I" and an emotional second person "you." Gao stays with park rangers, old friends and Daoist monks. The "you" wanders a more fantastic, otherworldly Chinese landscape, looking for LingshanDthe "soul mountain" of the title. To the second person is allotted a series of frenzied sexual encounters with a series of rebellious women. Within this baggy structure, there are repeated memories of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, episodes concerning "wild men" (the Chinese equivalent of yeti), reflections on China's environmental degradation and comments on old ruins. Seeking out old singers and shamans like a connoisseur of extinct cultures, Gao has created a sui generis work, one that, in combining story, reminiscence, meditation and journalism, warily comes to terms with the shocks of both Maoism and capitalism. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Dec) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Soul Mountain Chapter One The old bus is a city reject. After shaking in it for twelve hours on the potholed highway since early morning, you arrive in this mountain county town in the South. In the bus station, which is littered with ice-block wrappers and sugar cane scraps, you stand with your backpack and a bag and look around for a while. People are getting off the bus or walking past, men humping sacks and women carrying babies. A crowd of youths, unhampered by sacks or baskets, have their hands free. They take sunflower seeds out of their pockets, toss them one at a time into their mouths and spit out the shells. With a loud crack the kernels are expertly eaten. To be leisurely and carefree is endemic to the place. They are locals and life has made them like this, they have been here for many generations and you wouldn't need to go looking anywhere else for them. The earliest to leave the place travelled by river in black canopy boats and overland in hired carts, or by foot if they didn't have the money. Of course at that time there were no buses and no bus stations. Nowadays, as long as they are still able to travel, they flock back home, even from the other side of the Pacific, arriving in cars or big air-conditioned coaches. The rich, the famous and the nothing in particular all hurry back because they are getting old. After all, who doesn't love the home of their ancestors? They don't intend to stay so they walk around looking relaxed, talking and laughing loudly, and effusing fondness and affection for the place. When friends meet they don't just give a nod or a handshake in the meaningless ritual of city people, but rather they shout the person's name or thump him on the back. Hugging is also common, but not for women. By the cement trough where the buses are washed, two young women hold hands as they chat. The women here have lovely voices and you can't help taking a second look. The one with her back to you is wearing an indigo-print headscarf. This type of scarf, and how it's tied, dates back many generations but is seldom seen these days. You find yourself walking towards them. The scarf is knotted under her chin and the two ends point up. She has a beautiful face. Her features are delicate, so is her slim body. You pass close by them. They have been holding hands all this time, both have red coarse hands and strong fingers. Both are probably recent brides back seeing relatives and friends, or visiting parents. Here, the word xifu means one's own daughter-in-law and using it like rustic Northerners to refer to any young married woman will immediately incur angry abuse. On the other hand, a married woman calls her own husband laogong, yet your laogong and my laogong are both used. People here speak with a unique intonation even though they are descendants of the same legendary emperor and are of the same culture and race. You can't explain why you're here. It happened that you were on a train and this person mentioned a place called Lingshan. He was sitting opposite and your cup was next to his. As the train moved, the lids on the cups clattered against one another. If the lids kept on clattering or clattered and then stopped, that would have been the end of it. However, whenever you and he were about to separate the cups, the clattering would stop, and as soon as you and he looked away the clattering would start again. He and you reached out, but again the clattering stopped. The two of you laughed at the same instant, put the cups well apart, and started a conversation. You asked him where he was going. "Lingshan." "What?" "Lingshan, ling meaning spirit or soul, and shan meaning mountain." You'd been to lots of places, visited lots of famous mountains, but had never heard of this place. Your friend opposite had closed his eyes and was dozing. Like anyone else, you couldn't help being curious and naturally wanted to know which famous places you'd missed on your travels. Also, you liked doing things properly and it was annoying that there was a place you've never even heard of You asked him about the location of Lingshan. "At the source of the You River," he said, opening his eyes. You didn't know this You River either, but was embarrassed about asking and gave an ambiguous nod which could have meant either "I see, thanks" or "Oh, I know the place". This satisfied your desire for superiority, but not your curiosity. After a while you asked how to get there and the route up the mountain. "Take the train to Wuyizhen, then go upstream by boat on the You River." "What's there? Scenery? Temples? Historic sites?" you asked, trying to be casual. "It's all virgin wilderness." "Ancient forests?" "Of course, but not just ancient forests." "What about Wild Men?" you said, joking. He laughed without any sarcasm, and didn't seem to be making fun of himself which intrigued you even more. You had to find out more about him. "Are you an ecologist? A biologist? An anthropologist? An archaeologist?" He shook his head each time then said, "I'm more interested in living people." "So you're doing research on folk customs? You're a sociologist? An ethnographer? An ethnologist? A journalist, perhaps? An adventurer?" "I'm an amateur in all of these." The two of you started laughing. "I'm an expert amateur in all of these!" The laughing made you and him cheerful. He lit a cigarette and couldn't stop talking as he told you about the wonders of Lingshan. Afterwards, at your request, he tore up... Soul Mountain . Copyright © by Gao Xingjian. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Soul Mountain by Xingjian Gao All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.