Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian

Volatile and fleeting - those are the two words that I feel best portray my impressions of Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain. Upon completing a book, my opinions will usually clot together and solidify somewhat, but here, they evaporated away. All I was left with was a wispy impression, and that’s why it took me such a long time to gather my thoughts.

At a superficial level, Soul Mountain is the story of one man’s journey across the Chinese countryside. The narrator travels through mountains and desolate villages, gathering folk songs and attempting to rediscover a lost childhood. Beneath this, however, there lies a tangled mess of thought. Something of deeper meaning. A few days ago, I wrote that I was floating outside of Gao’s vision, unable to understand. He himself explores this in his writing:
…the village settlement with the wooden houses which have gone black, the savage Alsatian with the grey-black fur, and the crazy woman with the snake on the carrying pole. These all seem to be hinting at something, just like the huge gloomy mountain behind the small building. There is something more to it all which I will never be able to fully understand.
It is soon evident that far from being a physical journey, Gao is redrawing the spiritual and emotional map of China, alongside the physical. With Soul Mountain, especially, an understanding of contextual background is significant. This novel was birthed during the tumultuous after-effects of the Cultural Revolution - it was formed from the void of religion, morals, and culture in Communist China. Uncertainty and the need to rediscover the self was poured into - and has been contained within - Gao’s novel.
I am perpetually searching for meaning, but what in fact is meaning? … 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 hman 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?
The rest of this review can be found over at tuesday in silhouette.


Book Movie Reviews said...

Soul Mountain was a fascinating book. I received a nice collectible copy of Soul Mountain as a gift, and now I'm a Gao Xingjian for life.

Sandra said...

I will be reading this book soon. Very nice review.

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