Xingjian asks himself, “how should I change this life for which I had just won a reprieve”. He opens the book traveling on a train where the interplay of rattling teacups with a fellow passenger leads to a conversation. Intrigued by the man’s destination, the protagonist of the book, decides to make Soul Mountain his goal. Throughout his travels he encounters Daoist priests, Buddhist monks and a way of village life that will soon be wiped off the earth by the creation of “The Three Gorges Damn”. The first approximate half of the book alternates between 1st person and 2nd person narratives with the 1st person that of a wanderer and his chance meetings whereas the 2nd person creates a dialog with a fictitious woman who may or may not be someone the author has met along the way whom he fantasizes about.
As the book progresses, the traveler becomes more entangled in digressions that lead to both memorable descriptions of ancient ways of life and a transition from daydream like dialogs with a woman accomplice to nightmare visions of reality beyond his control. At one point he acts as a collector of folk songs as a way to avoid suspicion among the village elders who view his card from the Writers Union as an attempt by the government to expose their way of life as unpatriotic. Needless to say, the traveler never reaches Soul Mountain. The directions are ever changing and the best advice he receives comes from a Buddhist monk who tells him, “the true traveler is without a goal, it is the absence of goals which creates the ultimate traveler”. In 1987, Xingjian left China for Paris where he finished Soul Mountain 1989. He won the Nobel in 2000.
Posted by Jim Krapf, Library Clerk