Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: "Soul Mountain" Gao Xingjian

The strangest comparison came to me while I was inching my way through Chinese author Gao Xingjian’s novel Soul Mountain. Reading through it, the episodic nature of its main character’s journey into the deep forests of southwest China reminded me of the writer Pedro Juan Gutierrez who lived thousands of miles away Cuba. While the two books share a similar flow and disregard for more linear literary elements, Gutierrez’s book is different in one major way: it is worlds away more engaging, entertaining and fun to read. Despite some of the book’s more harrowing scenes, which I will get to in a minute, I felt so detached while reading this. It was as if I picked up a book on yoga or transcendental meditation and not something that should be shelved in the fiction section of a library or bookstore. Xingjian has talent as a writer (a bit of an understatement), and I won’t argue with him winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. I just wish he parlayed that talent in a way that was less heavy-handed and more inviting. The basic setup of the book is something that really happened to Xingjian. When he was in his early forties in the 1980’s, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, the same disease that killed his father slowly and was diagnosed by the same doctor that diagnosed Xingjian. But when the diagnosis is proven false, he takes a journey into the mountains, in search of the eponymous mountain this book is named after. It works as kind of a travelogue, with the more boring descriptions clashing with the more brutal aspects, which include legends about the area and some of the flippant sexual encounters, and it never really works. It’s shifting narration between first and second person also doesn’t help things. But for all of those, it is still is readable and its’ 500 pages go by quickly. You might find something in it I didn’t if you decide to check it out.

Rating: 3/5

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