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Soul Mountain Paperback – October 23, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 510 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 Reprint edition (October 23, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060936231
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060936235
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #348,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

The plot was too vague, and the "ingenious" gender changes of the narrator had no effect on me.
Diana P. Combs
I agree it was difficult read but you surely do not have to go any slower while reading the book because seriously, you won't be missing much if you didn't.
It is to Gao's credit that he was able to create his own unique writing style, despite this very difficult creative climate.
M. Liu

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

114 of 119 people found the following review helpful By M. Liu on March 27, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This has to be one of the most controversial books on the market. Either you love it or hate it, as reflected by ratings from 1 to 5 stars. I read the book first in Chinese (my first language), then in English, and I think I can partially explain this contradiction.
The central theme of the book is straightforward. A dying man goes on a quest for adventure and closure. The reason he chose to go to the Soul Mountain is purely coincidental, he heard the name casually mentioned by a fellow traveler on the train. We can only speculate that he was drawn to the "Soul" mountain in the hope of finding some spiritual enlightening and the meaning of his own existence.
The Soul Mountain (Lingshan) continues to elude Gao, and the closest thing he ever got to is the Soul Rock (Lingyan) where women burn incense when they want to have sons. Unlike many other readers, I could not detect any deep moral or religious questioning on the part of the author, nor is there a spiritual awakening in this book.
What has captivated me is Gao's lyrical description of the amazing landscape, the villagers, the Taoist priests, the monks and the hermits who live in the deep mountains and back woods. He reflects fleetingly on his past, full of memories of political persecution, failures in love and relationships, lack of fulfillment, and wrestles with his own demons of loneliness and homesickness. I am moved by his irrepressible sadness whenever he encounters remnants of his childhood: ponds with floating duckweed, arched stone bridges, small town wine shops---.I am dazzled by Gao's masterful use of both traditional and modern Chinese prose, his subtle sense of humor, irony, drama, mystery and his knowledge of history and folklore.
Gao's alternative use of "I." "you" and "He" does not bother me.
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132 of 140 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This English edition of Soul Mountain by the Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian fails to do justice to the orginal. There are simply too many mistakes, too many inaccuracies in the translation. The translation seems to be done by more than one person. Otherwise, how can one explain that a sinologist like Mabel Lee does not know Lao TZu? In her translation, Lao Tzu is translated as someone's "father." Also the term "elevation," which appears many times in the book, is often translated as a proper noun; but it is also correctly translated as "above sea level" in a couple of places. There are other examples of such inconsistencies in the translation. There seems to be a lot of guess work, not proper understanding of the original, in this translation. There are more than one places where a word or phrase the transaltor does not know is simply treated as a proper noun. There are also careless mistakes such as "one million yuan" translated into "one hundred yuan." The original prose of Mr. Gao is lucid, graceful and sensuous. The translation is full of long, involved, awkward sentences, like "It is only when my tape gets to the end and I stop the recorder to change the tape that, panting, that he too comes to a stop." Mr. Gao's work is infused with Chinese culture, history and is full of literary allusions and idioms. To render everything gracefully and faithfully into another language is no easy task. But this does not give a translator excuse or freedom to guess the meaning and create his/her own version. Mr. Gao used a famous saying in Chinese which talks about finding by sheer luck what one has been searching for far and wide.Read more ›
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Rob Shimmin on June 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
I found Soul Mountain to be one of those unique works of literature that immediately identifies itself as great for inexplicable reasons. I cannot compare this book to any other, either in terms of narrative sytle or content. Nonetheless, it is one of the most meaningful reflective texts I have read. It is about the author's journey of self-discovery, but along the way, you may have your own.
Given a reprieve from death when his diagnosis of lung cancer is rescinded and forced to leave Beijing due to threats of political imprisonment, the autobiographical narrator I travels throughout interior China documenting traditional folk songs and seeking a state of being in which he can give free rein to his artistic expression. In a series of unconnected episodes, I tells of his encounters with forest rangers, Buddhist and Daoist monastics, government workers, keepers of the traditions of ethnic minorities, and his own childhood memories. As he tells these stories, I decries the destruction of traditional culture for the sake of "progress" under the Communist regime but mourns the weight culture places on individual freedom. I longs to return to a wild, primal state but is rebuffed by the callous indifference of raw nature. I's story is that of trying to reconcile these conflicting ideas of what it is good for the self to become.
Interleaved with I's story is the story of you, who in metaphor with I's own journey, is traveling to the mythical mountain Lingshan (Soul Mountain). Early in his journey, you gains a traveling companion, she. The interaction between you and she becomes frightening portrayal of how men and women can trap each other in a relationship neither wants, and how easy it is to do so.
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