I have to start with admitting I quite often have a hard time to relate to Chinese literature. Soul Mountain by Nobel prize winner Gao Xingjian has a more Western vibe to it, and I found it more relatable than most other Chinese books I’ve read. In a way it’s easy to describe Soul Mountain, but to fully get the book, you will have to read it.
A middle aged man finds out his time is nearly up, because he is dying of lung cancer. Soon afterwards he was diagnosed cancer free. This happened to the author, Gao, in real life. The protagonist decides to take a trip to the heart of China. He moves from place to place, and in a quest to find himself, he also discovers his beautiful and diverse country. My mind was filled with beautiful and picturesque images of the Chinese countryside while reading the book.
There are many Western elements, which is probably why I found it more relatable than most Chinese books I’ve read. Who has not come upon a book about a protagonist setting out to find him/herself going somewhere far away to rediscover whatever it is that needs to be rediscovered. In the case of Soul Mountain the two reoccurring themes are childhood and death.
A journey to your inner self while discovering the beautiful country is something that many of us would most likely benefit from. It would be quite the adventure to go through an adventure like this. I wouldn’t mind experience it myself. However, at times it felt like the story in this book was not moving forward. The lack of an actual plot didn’t help.
Gao seems to have lead quite the life, and he has definitely taken several elements from it as the basis for this book. The not really having a plot part might be a bit annoying, but then again, is there a real plot to life? My attention was not focused on the book at all times, because sometimes the book took a few strange turns, and some chapters were out of context. The chapters are short, so it did not bother me as much as it sometimes does while reading a book like this.
Even though I had a few issues with the book, I was surprised that in the end it turned out to be a fast and easy read, not a 500 pages long mountain to climb, which was the illusion I had in my head before I left for this lit journey. There is something hauntingly beautiful about Soul Mountain, and so is the cover of the book. Well, history, biography, myths & legends, philosophy… What’s not to like?