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Soul Mountain

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  4,254 ratings  ·  503 reviews
In 1983, Chinese playwright, critic, fiction writer, and painter Gao Xingjian was diagnosed with lung cancer and faced imminent death. But six weeks later, a second examination revealed there was no cancer -- he had won "a reprieve from death." Faced with a repressive cultural environment and the threat of a spell in a prison farm, Gao fled Beijing and began a journey of 1 ...more
Paperback, 510 pages
Published October 23rd 2001 by Harper Perennial (first published 1989)
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Cory Sheldon I'm finding I just need to really be awake due to it's very meandering quality. Certainly not a fast read in that way, also, not a great book to read …moreI'm finding I just need to really be awake due to it's very meandering quality. Certainly not a fast read in that way, also, not a great book to read in bed when I'm sleepy. I do find it pretty engaging if I'm wide awake, though.(less)

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Average rating 3.59  · 
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Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nobels
Why do you give yourself reading tasks? Why do you embark on a journey to read all Nobel Laureates in Literature?

Over the years, reading all kinds of books by a wide range of different authors from all over the world, I asked myself that question quite often. Some laureates had been favourites for decades before I started the project, others were completely new to me, and some were even hard to find in bookstores.

After I had finished Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain, I thought I had an answer to t
Horace Derwent
Apr 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It throes me, the content, the soul of the author and the struggling people. Now that we're here, but it's still so far away...all the mistakes one life contains, all the struggle we fought was in vain...they all finally start to fade away

I can get purified from reading it and obtain more from it whenever I scatter my eyes on and imprint my fingers in the pages, so why don't you give it a shot?

What a beautifully written book of a mastermind, and it's still being banned in Chinkland for sure, it
May 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: the patient, who are constantly looking for...something
This is barely a book. It's the at once epic and intimate journey of one man, told in different persons and with feelings sometimes instead of words (somehow), almost miraculously bound together and made tangible.

I am prone to exaggeration. But I have such specific remembrances--memories of feelings and moments of hyper-awareness--tied to this book.... For all the incredible books I have come across so far, NONE of them gave me what this book did. None of them made me so viscerally part of their
Dec 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A powerful spiritual experience, coming from an author still alive!!

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the author took refuge in France, was living in an inner city project housing at the time he got the Nobel Prize.

A deeply enriching story of his journey, which is at the same time entertaining. A powerful combination of depth and lightness. I haven't come across a chronicle of journey like this for a long time. It fits so well with his Nobel Prize speech, in wisdom and modesty.
25th of February 2013.
I cannot help, but to refer these news:"Chinese Officials Admit 'Cancer Villages' Due To Pollution Exist"*.

(Buddha Sakyamuni and Mahakayapa)


Lingshaw means Soul Mountain.

In this book there's an enlightening preface by Noël Dutrait referring that, in China, "in the end of the 1970's there was a timid political liberalization", therefore allowing writers not to serve the (communist) party.

Gao Xingjian is a writer and pain
Dane Huckelbridge
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is admittedly a bit challenging—its structure is unconventional, folk tales mingle with personal history, and it isn't bound so much by a plot as by a pervading spirit of search. But what a beautiful search it is. In seeking out a mountain that may or may not exist, Xingjian takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery that isn't marked so much by what it reveals, as by what remains hidden and perfectly unknown. The last page is perhaps my favorite in literature—a perfect silence, e ...more
Apr 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people with previous experience with metafiction who are slightly scared of pandas.
Recommended to Alison by: I picked it up off the street.
I’d like to start with a view that dissents with those of some other reviewers, who (in praise, often) claim that this book works outside the rules of fiction, or is unlike all other books, or isn’t even a novel. Of course it is a novel, and a hyperliterary one at that–and it operates within structures of fictional form that are common (even commonplace) in the twentieth century, not to mention in earlier works that share some of its more astonishing features (such as Don Quixote). And Gao got a ...more
Apr 29, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This was a difficult book to read. Not because I found Xingjian's writing style too disjointed or because I thought it was too dense, but because his gaze never seemed to swerve far away from his own navel. In the beginning the book seemed very promising but as I continued it read more and more like the recounting of a long and stupid dream.

Xingjian's preoccupation with himself reaches the point that when one character has the temerity to impose on his splendid isolation with a story of her own
Jan 09, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one I know
Recommended to Dana by: No one, It was a gift
This book won a Nobel for liturature but, I have to admit it was a strugle for me to get through. It is over 500 pages and I have NEVER been so glad to be done with a book.
The author frequently refers to China's many Dynastys and The Culturol Revolution ( a very sad time for the people of China and their culture. ) Perhaps if I was more familiar with the history of China and the culture I may have enjoyed the book.Perhaps something was lost in translation ? Much of it was very metaphysical, phy
Nick Wellings
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

What is it with mountains? Be they Bare, Magic or Soulful like this, they exert a pull on the soul and they move men to poetry.

Equating height with Homeric majesty, Keats stood his Cortez silent upon a peak in Darien, to tug his conquistador’s soul towards some higher sublimity. Where Christianity has the abode of God and attendant angels reposing in the celestial crenelations of cumulonimbus and nimbostratus, Homer – grounded realist that he was, had his on semi-earthly Olympus. Not for nothin
Dec 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
1. I read it in Chinese and sort of understand where is Gao coming from. After had suffered personally the catastrophes of ten years Cultural Revolution and witnessed the destruction of traditional values, especially the metaphysical dimension of the Chinese culture under the Communist Regime, Gao wishes to paint again or recapture the original beauty of the tradition, which is inseparable from the mystical and even whimsical layers of the reality perceived by the local people who possess rather ...more
robin friedman
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Dogs Barking, The Sun Shining, The Love Of Woman

Here is a story I find helpful in illustrating this complex, insightful book. It is taken from Rickard and Thuan's book, titled "The Quantum and the Lotus"(p232)

A 19th Century Tibetan hermit named Patrul had a disciple named Lungtok. Lngtok was having difficulty learning to meditate. One evening while they were outside the monastery overlooking the mountains, Patrul caqlled Lungtok to him and said "Didn't you tell me you don't understand the na
Oct 25, 2007 rated it it was ok
I feel decidedly guilty and 'unliterary' giving a negative review of this book, but it just was not for me. It's a meditation on identity, and his writing is certainly innovative and probably the best way to explore the subject, but it made the book a long slog for me. The fact that someone talks about a woman being raped nearly every chapter (of which there are 80) was also something that made this read a difficult one for me. Glad I read it, glad it's over.
Jessica McLaren
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Update: What an amazing book. I truly have never read anything like it, and I found some of the observations and insights to be thrilling. Oddly, I found myself enraptured by the descriptions of the Chinese landscapes more than anything else. There is much to be awed by--fables, stories-within-stories, heartbreaking recollections of the Cultural Revolution--but it was the lengthy passages about China's mountains, forests and (increasingly polluted) rivers that kept me reading more than anything ...more
Apr 18, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
I have saved several books to read during my retirement and Soul Mountain is one of them. I love reading and I have read books from many cultures, which, generally, read differently from those by American authors. So, I felt comfortable starting this novel. However, after reading/skimming nearly 250 pages and not being able to "get into it," I finally put it down and started reading reviews. Aha, I found I was not the only one. Several reviews recommended reading the short chapter #72 stating th ...more
Jun 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: sino-sized
Context is important. I was newly married and jumping through all sorts of bureaucratic hoops. I found a stack of copies of this novel remaindered. I bought them all. I mailed one to my wife and gave the others way. I then read this in tandem with a friend who was being chucked out of his house. Oh, it wasn't a foreclosure. He was leaving his wife, though sooner than he expected, obviously. I then began dogpaddling through this morass of a novel rife with nature and strange sex. It didn't reach ...more
Persephone Abbott
Mar 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One can argue that Gao Xingjian wrote this novel for a Chinese speaking public, and a specific public who is versed in Classical Chinese Literature forms. To quote Wikipedia “Whether it works or not, it (Soul Mountain) is a rich fictional language filled with vernacular speeches and elegant 文言 (classical) formulations as well as dialects, thus constituting a "heteroglossic" tapestry of sounds and rhythms that can indeed be read aloud (as Gao himself has done in his public readings).” Leo Lee Ou- ...more
I was both excited by the proposition of a Chinese Nobel laureate and fascinated by Xingjian's personal trials when I chose to read his semi-autobiographical novel. As a pretext, I knew that Xingjian had dealt with being misdiagnosed with terminal cancer and gone soul searching through provincial China before publishing this work for which he was exiled from China and for which the Chinese government banned the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Despite my initial excitement, I'll admit to having been di
Nov 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book is long, incomprehensible, and downright annoying for me. Yet, it won the Nobel prize for literature in 2000. So in other words, if you read it for your own intellectual advancement, it’s fantastic. If not, well, you may just want to find another book.

Essentially, what makes the book frustrating is that it is not consistent or logical in any imaginable way. It doesn’t have any main characters. Instead, Gao Xingjian refers to his main characters simply as I, You, He, and She. When the

Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
No way. There are a few interesting anecdotes, but this is not a novel: it is utterly devoid of shape or meaning; there's not a blinking thing I can get behind or grab hold of to push myself past the 23% mark, which has taken me three months to get to. No way. I am out of here. Yay!
Jan 08, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful writing, but I never could get very involved in the stories, perhaps due to the constant change in perspective in the narration.
Ethan Cramer-Flood
Aug 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Gao Xingjian is the first, and only, Chinese author to win the Nobel prize for literature, which he won in 2000. He's primarily a playwright, but he's written a couple of novels, and Soul Mountain was mentioned by the Nobel committee as his magnum opus and the primary cause for the award. Thus, if my quest is to explore Chinese fiction before my move, this is an obvious pick.

In the early 1980s Gao -- who was already a semi-renowned literary figure and theater director in the underground art scen
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
There are yet some months to go, but this thing has a veritable death-grip on “favorite read of the year” honors for me, in 2017. Part autobiographical novel, part episodic travelogue, part dream narrative, this is a book that ultimately defies accurate description (or at least deserves a better reviewer than I...), in which all of the elements cohere into one of the most unusual and profound of reading experiences for the patient reader.

This is a book of rare depth. I am vaguely reminded of Na
Nov 12, 2011 added it
Shelves: chinese-fiction
Several months ago, I read a collection of Gao's stories and was duly impressed. Impressed enough to return to the novel that won him the Nobel.


It's long and dense and packed with ideas, characters, gorgeous imagery. Start by thinking of a novel by Thomas Pynchon or some other grand-postmodern poobah. Now transpose the setting and cultural background to China, and replace the pop culture references with fragments of folklore, Taoist belief, tribal ritual, and memories of the Cultural Revolu
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Exceptional. Beautifully done, peaceful and eternally grounded. Just to add there is violence in the book but the energy around the whole book is what I described.
Milo Russell
Jan 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Soul Mountain is one of those works that in it's native culture and language is a rather conventional piece whose virtues lie chiefly in it's substance rather than any exotic formal philosophy, but in English becomes completely insane. An example of the wonderful things the Chinese have done with S.O.C. novels, the book is constructed without any named foreground characters, using pronouns to differentiate it's cast. The book starts out with "you," eventually introducing a "she," a "he" and then ...more
Jun 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone wanting a new way of looking at fiction
Recommended to Lisa by: someone on cafe mom, I forgot who
This book can only be described as wonderfully unusual, outside the realm of the traditional work of fiction. I imagine that the book could almost be considered a memoir because the narrator has a lot of the author's same experiences.(as provided in a short introduction)My first reaction was that this book was very artistic in it's writing. The narrator seems to paint the setting in the readers mind with his descriptions while setting the mood with words so immersed in his own mood that I couldn ...more
Gregory Duke
This book is a five-hundred page representation of the grand platitude, "The journey is greater than the destination," a claim that any novel explores on a certain level. But wow wow wow the journey here is made up of eighty-two faux-destinations. Every chapter is its own concept, its own town, its own legend, its own country gazette, its own folk song, its own dream, its own memory, everything being amorphous in a manner that seems implausible due to the clarity that the minimalist prose afford ...more
Aug 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
Another book that I've been tyring to read for several months. I have tried this one and found it is not for me. Life is too short, moving onto a different read that I hope I will enjoy.
Czarny Pies
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers with a good knowledge of Chinese history especially the Cultural Revolution.
"Soul Mountain' is a wretched work by a equally wretched man profoundly traumatized by his experiences in Communist China during an ear when an estimated 30 to 45 million Chinese would die because of the oppression and sheer incompetence of the regime.
Completed in Paris in 1989 several months after the Tiananmen Square massacre "Soul Mountain" is an important testimony to life under Mao.

The protagonist narrator is a minor writer has been misdiagnosed with Lung Cancer. Two weeks later a second t
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A book demands contemplation 1 19 Dec 13, 2013 04:24PM  
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Gao Xingjian is a Chinese-born novelist, playwright, critic, and painter. An émigré to France since 1987, Gao was granted French citizenship in 1997. The recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Literature, he is also a noted translator (particularly of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco), screenwriter, stage director, and a celebrated painter.

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