"Soul Mountain" by the year 2000 Chinese Nobel Prize winnr, Gao Xingjian, seems, at the outset, to be a collection of wanderings and quests for knowledge interspersed with dialogues with a mysterious "other woman", all hopelessly entangled with references to obscure dynasties and geographic locations.
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to the western reaer, this amalgam of references to hidden and lost documents mixed with a present-day relationship with a woman may seem inaccessible.
But the reader is drawn along by the writer's clear, unpretentious style in his search for Soul Mountain, and wonders if he will ever find it, or will he perish in the search?
The reader wonders, as well, if the woman will commit suicide and throw herself into the River of the Dead.
Western practitioners of Tai chi adn qigong read with interest about the author's search for Daoist writings, many of which were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution of the 70's in China.
The problem or joy of the novel is that it is not linear; perhaps the author is mildly tweaking the western reader by not starting in the beginning or charting his journey geographically in the style of a travelogue, but rather beginning with an inner quest:'How should I change this life for which I had just won a reprieve?"
The author then sets out for Lingshan;"Ling', meaning spirit or soul, and "shan", meaning mountain.
At the monastery at "Gold Top", one of the sacred, Buddhist mountains, he meets possibly the last Daoist of the Pure Unity sect; a man about eighty who refuses to answer any of his questions. hHe is welcome to stay in the temple where the wind howls and shakes the dwarfpines. However, he 'can only return to pass his existence in...a normal life; there is no alternative...And this is (his) tragedy.
In the quiet of the night, the author ponders what he might do in the remaining years of his life."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."
The novel ends with the author dreamingof himself on a mountain top, one of the many daoist Heavenly Temples, real and imaginary, of China.It is snowing and he imagines God is talking to him by opening and closing his eyes.
"There are no miracles", God is saying this,"Saying this to an insatiable human being ,me."
"Then what else is there to seek?", the author asks. there is no answer. Snow is falling, soundlessly. In Heaven,"it is peaceful like this. and there is no joy. Joy is related to anxiety."
The author leaves us, perhaps on toop of Lingshan, with his combination of legend and myth, his quest momentarily ended. He has painted a portrait of China as he would like to remember it; not the repressive country of today, but a land where the past is still revered and where the sould of the people lives on in the history of their ancestors.
The review of this Book prepared by Betty-Jeanne Korson