From inside dust jacket cover of 2000 English translation:
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.
About the Author
Too much analytical thinking, too much logic, too many meanings! Life has no logic, so why does there have to be logic to explain what it means? Also, what is logic? I think I need to break away from analytical thinking, this is the cause of all my anxieties.
–Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain
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.