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Soul Mountain by Nobel winner Gao Xingjian

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The following are excerpts from "Soul Mountain," Gao Xingjian's novel based on his travels in central China in the 1980s and translated from Chinese by Mabel Lee. The novel was cited by the Swedish Academy in awarding the Chinese author the 2000 Nobel Prize in literature.


The rich, the famous, and the nothing in particular all hurry back because they are getting old. After all, who doesn't love the home of their ancestors? They don't intend to stay, so they walk around looking relaxed, talking and laughing loudly, and effusing fondness and affection for the place. When friends meet they don't just give a nod or a handshake in the meaningless ritual of city people, but rather they shout the person's name or thump him on the back. Hugging is also common, but not for women. By the cement trough where the buses are washed, two young women hold hands as they chat. The women here have lovely voices and you can't help taking a second look.

* * * * *

In the North, it is already late autumn but the summer heat hasn't completely subsided. Before sunset, it is still quite hot in the sun and sweat starts running down your back. You leave the station to have a look around. There's nothing nearby except for the little inn across the road. It's an old-style two-story building with a wooden shop front. Upstairs the floorboards creak badly but worse still is the grime on the pillow and sleeping mat. If you wanted to have a wash, you'd have to wait 'til it was dark to strip off and pour water over yourself in the damp and narrow courtyard. This is a stopover for the village peddlers and craftsmen.

* * * * *

At the time every city along the way had gone mad. Walls, factories, high voltage poles, man-made constructions of any kind, were all covered in slogans swearing to defend with one's life, to overthrow, to smash, and to fight a bloody war to the end. As this train roared along there was the singing of battle songs on the broadcast system on board and on the loudspeakers outside in every place the train passed. [source:]

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