Owlseyes's Reviews > A Montanha da Alma

A Montanha da Alma by Gao Xingjian
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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 painter born in 1940; in 1997 he was granted French citizenship. In several interviews I've watched, he said (in good French): "in my natal country, my name and books are censured".

About the Olympic Games, Gao commented, that "everybody is aware about censorship in China"[Anti-spiritual Pollution Campaign]. I read also that his present book "is a literary response to the devastation of the self".

(by painter Bada Shanren; 1625-1705)

Gao said that "painting starts where words cannot go"; but while reading this book I had this great feeling I was viewing terrifically beautiful landscapes....of forests and mountains and ...of soul's....

It's a different style of writing: Gao's quite good enabling images through words. Gao affirmed that:"the artist can express himself...has a voice of his own...he's a conscience".

The Chinese writer thinks that a single writer cannot change the world...it's "utopic". And yet his words will endure.Gao asks: who reads the political speeches?...only Historians; but Shakespeare, and the Greek Tragedies ...and Don Quijote: everybody reads them.

(by painter Gong Xian; 1660-1700)

The book's story is auto-biographical especially in what concerns the "diagnosed terminal cancer" and, in general, the China hinterland tour (5 months).

The Story

The main character of the story is a matured man called Li.He lived a lot of time in the city.We found him with a back pack on a 12 hours bus ride...on his way to visit his natal land...in South China. Li muses that "everybody returns here due to advanced age":... who can escape nostalgia?

He watches the people: they hug tightly, they have their own vocabulary, quite different from the Northern people (these are rustic).
Here, while reading,we get introduced to a new style of narration: an omnipresent narrator addresses Li constantly telling him things, like: "you, yourself, don't know why you came here".

On the train Li heard that there was a place called Lingshaw: Soul Mountain.How can you get there?

Li took a bus to little Wuyi village; old books speak about Lingshaw; like Classic of the Seas and the Mountains; they say that the Buddha awakened there the venerable Mahakayapa.

Li's trip is a voyage to return to Nature, to have an authentic life; he should have abandoned pollution a long time ago. He had been diagnosed lung cancer.

(by painter Gong Xian; 1660-1700)

On his trip he recalls old traditions that the Cultural Revolution prohibited; like the dance around the fire till dawn; the old songs and lyrics were replaced by Mao's quotes! Li says that some of his country men declared to be of QIANG ethnicity to be allowed to have more children, hence escaping birth control policies. Li comments: "I came here to study the popular chants". The Qiang ("race") live between the high Tibetan plateau and the Sichuan basin...and they adore the fire.

Li wanted to escape the literary world and the "smoke" of his room.

It's Springtime and Li says "I let my spirit wander"; he's back to a place of childhood and youth.

In Wuyi he meets a woman, who was staring at the mountains; but then she disappeared. Li watches a young couple laughing,joyfully. The Omnipresent narrator´s voice tells him: "you've passed that age, you don't feel the same joy as they do".

The woman wasn't as happy as the couple,... she doesn't look like them.Li feels the need to communicate...when he sees the woman buying grapefruit. But she doesn't answer.

The Voice is back on Li:"you don't know how to love, you lost your virility, so weak you are".

Li recalls mountains´ walk.It's cold in the mountains, despite being springtime. Li spent two nights at the Panda's Observation field.

Li tells the story of the Dragon Feast; and the tragedy stories (suicides) of the Passage of Yu, a village mentioned in the Historical Memories of Sima Quan (145-86 B.C.).

Forests. The Chinese writer loves nature and describes the one-million years old Beeches; 40-meters tall.

Li explains the concept of Kalpa: the succession of existences and rebirths of man, in Buddhist religion; and the parallels between Kalpa and the Bambu tree 60-years cycle.

(by painter Hsü Wei; 1529-1593)

The guide tells Li that once there were tigers,but now: no more tigers in South China. "Nature doesn't scare you, but man does", concludes Li.

Li is worried; is there (still) a primitive forest, yet untouched by man?; yes, at point 11M12M. Li knows about the Blue Bird, that seeks food for Mother Queen of the West. It's in Tang's poetry.

Remembered: the pollution of river Minjiang; not to speak of the Yangzi's; the Three Gorges will destroy the equilibrium of the Yangzi Basin.

And then there are references to the metallic black of the Tsugas trees; firs trees of dark grey....and the rare white azalea. The cuckoo singing like "Big Brother wait for me".

Li is "breathless...in a state of serenity never known before". But Li will say "Nature fooled me... a man with no beliefs, who's afraid of nothing and thinks he's important". Li is lost in the forest. "I yell... fog falls upon me...";and all Li has got is "seven candies" in his pocket. For all his life he's been expecting a miracle.

Li is back on the dialogues with the "different" woman. She told him: she wanted to die. "It should be good to die in purity".Nobody can recognize her, nobody knows her name; those names she gave at the hotel were false. She tells her story to Li. She met a man, loved him...but vomited,despite not being pregnant; they had plans, but no kids included.And then, hysterically, she insulted him, due to her grief...and love ended. She worked in a hospital,but hated work and family, even her father: a drunken man, a weak man, subjugated by her stepmother.

Li asks hurt-woman if she wants to cross the river, to the other side: there, it's Lingshaw-the Soul Mountain.A place where you can see marvels, that will help you forgetting...and get liberation. Li says she's truly cunning. She says she's not stupid.

(by painter Hua Yen; 1682 – 1756)

Li speaks about himself; about the time when lung cancer was diagnosed; had he experienced repentance?... he went through a period of time remembering "his own errors": was he ungrateful to others, or the other way around?. At that time a friend told him about respiratory practices (Qi Qong)that could help him. Li started walking in parks, where people took cages with birds for a stroll.The city was polluted. Also, Li started reading the Book of Mutations, the YiJing and its hexagrams. His friend had studied genetic engineering; he thought "life is admirable-a chance phenomenon". Li acknowledges his mother really loved him but she passed away. And he really hated his wife, whom he separated from. Li thought life was an inextricable knot...of rage?

What?? the "fibroscopy" revealed there was nothing!! May the Buddha be praised! He had promised if he had another chance he would change course in his life. And miracle happened. Li the one who thought about young people praying: what a foolishness!!! Li the one who felt pity for those praying. Now: he felt he was reciting the name of the Buddha Amithaba, with "all his heart", before receiving the "fibroscopy" result. Man is nothing in the face of adversities.

One day Li consults a psychic woman; she's having convulsions and tells about his destiny; "you are surrounded by great difficulties and the little men";Li knows them: "the Sanshi...the little men living in the body of men, hiding in the throat, feeding on saliva". The psychic woman tells him too: you've found the white tiger. Li knows what that means.

The Great Emperor Tang was a Li too; Li is the descendant of a family of generals and ministers, not only of tomb robbers.Li ancestors are recalled.

The psychic woman had told Li: "I think you won't get pardon...there's an evil man who wants to punish you...you'll hardly escape".Nine white tigers.

The story goes on.What will Li find in Soul Mountain? Will he ever get pardoned?... or find liberation?

Time to ascribe 4 and a half stars to Gao's. He plainly deserves them.

(by painter Zheng Banqiao;1693-1765)

Post Scriptum

"I recall when I was a child the Yangtzi water was pure in all seasons".
Gao Xingjian

(Chongqing city,south-west of China,in The Economist,Feb 4th 2012)

(air pollution,...2013 Beijing)

(China's cancer villages -- areas with cancer patients significantly above the national average -- mapped out by various researchers and produced by environmentalist Deng Fei in 2009).
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Reading Progress

January 20, 2012 – Started Reading
January 20, 2012 – Shelved
January 20, 2012 – Shelved as: chin-lit
Finished Reading
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: exiled-chinese
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: nobel-prize
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: author-own-story
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: china-critical-on-his-plays
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: anti-spiritual-pollution-campaign
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: 5-months-tour-hinterland
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: completed-in-1989
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: published-in-taiwan-1990
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: reconnect-with-daoism
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: reconnect-with-buddhism
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: reconnect-with-forests
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: political-novel-though
March 25, 2017 – Shelved as: singular-literary-creation-nobel

Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Mon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mon Nice review :) Just a little note, Soul Mountain should be LingShan and not Lingshaw.

Owlseyes thanks; looks like you're into the Chinese language; I mean, you master it;good.

message 3: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily Thx for the illustrated review. It has been years now since I have read in this book -- did not finish it. Perhaps I should try again, in the perspective of some lighter reading on China.

Owlseyes thanks; going through those illustrations gave a lot of meaning to the book.Yes,from China we get heavy stuff/news...yet,they have sublime treasures,...been a long,long time.

message 5: by Lily (last edited Nov 26, 2012 02:22PM) (new) - added it

Lily José-contemplates-Saturn's Aurora wrote: "thanks; going through those illustrations gave a lot of meaning to the book.Yes,from China we get heavy stuff/news...yet,they have sublime treasures,...been a long,long time."

Just added Soul Mountain to Goodreads "best books of 20th century" list. I guess it had not been there previously. Do add your vote if you think it deserves it. (I don't always feel the need to finish a book to understand its significance.)

message 6: by Horace (new) - added it

Horace Derwent This is one of those rare and perfect books ever written in human history

Owlseyes Agreed; 100,9999...%

message 8: by Horace (new) - added it

Horace Derwent and it's strictly forbidden in its origin land

message 9: by Owlseyes (last edited Jun 26, 2017 05:00AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Owlseyes Right, but Gao Xingjian is doing so well in France; you should see him talkin' French...[there are many tapes on Youtube with Gao]

message 10: by Horace (last edited Jun 26, 2017 05:21AM) (new) - added it

Horace Derwent there's no youtube, facebook, twitter, google or wiki in china, not anymore

yet i can speak some french :)

message 11: by Owlseyes (last edited Jun 26, 2017 05:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Owlseyes OH right: I forgot about Gao's warning: CENSORSHIP!!!


----Even in Hong Kong?? Things are different there, even concerning books


message 12: by Horace (last edited Jun 26, 2017 05:34AM) (new) - added it

Horace Derwent of course not in hk, macao and taiwan

i try to buy some banned books thru the way of japanese amazon, pricy but worthy, hope me safe :)

message 13: by Owlseyes (last edited Jun 26, 2017 05:36AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Owlseyes Great; But that [censorship] cannot be true regarding Taiwan; ...

message 14: by Horace (new) - added it

Horace Derwent yeah, lapsus calami, taiwan is Republic of China, it's a Country of Sovereignty, this year is the 116th anniversary of Her Founding

Owlseyes Lucky Taiwan :)

message 16: by Horace (last edited Jun 27, 2017 12:51AM) (new) - added it

Horace Derwent thank Korean War

as we all know:

it saved (South) Korea

it saved Taiwan

and it also saved North Korea, why? cuz nk survived, otherwise, china wud be the shittiest and stupidest country in the world :D

thank the God of War, if there is one

he killed Mao's Dauphin, the heir to Mao's evil throne

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