First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
The first Chinese author ever to win the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature, Gao Xingjian is best known for Soul Mountain, an elegant, unforgettable and courageous novel which journeys deep into the heart of modern-day China.
Happy Friday everyone! Many of us have a natural dislike for Monday as the least favorite day of the week. Friday, on the other hand, is its antithesis as it is the gateway to the weekend. Yes, it is again the weekends, the day of the week everyone is looking forward to, including yours truly. Nonetheless, I hope that you ended your work week on a high note. The life of an adult is teeming with responsibilities that there are days when I wish I could have frozen time and stayed as a child. But then again, we have to grow up sometime. It is inevitable. Anyway, since it is the weekend, it’s time to ditch those work clothes and don more comfortable clothes. I hope you are doing well, in body, mind, and spirit. COVID-19 still looms large, exacerbated by the increasing presence of monkeypox. I hope that you are all observing the minimum health standards to prevent the further spread of both diseases. I hope you all enjoy the weekend and that you are able to rest well.
Before I can dive into the weekends, let me close this week with a fresh First Impression Friday update. This will be my second to the last update for August. Oh, how time flies! In a couple more days, Jose Mari Chan will be serenading Filipinos with timeless Christmas songs. Radio stations and malls will start playing Christmas songs. The Filipinos do have a long Christmas tradition which spans all -ber months. It can’t be. I still have a lot of reading goals this year and I am barely making any headway in most of them. I have to reorganize myself lest I won’t be hitting any of my goals this year. Anyway, for August, I have been reading works of Asian literature. After going over the listing of books I read – I do have one – I realized that my venture into Asia literature is limited, contrary to what I initially thought. Asian literature is a vast sphere and in exploring other parts of the continent, I hope I get to learn more about its colorful cultures, diverse people, and history.
After traveling from India to Turkey, my current read, Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain transported me to China. Unlike Japanese literature, my forays into Chinese literature is lacking; I thought I have read a lot but no, I was wrong. I have read a couple but it was sorely lacking; it was just the tip of the iceberg, as I soon realized. I have been aching to expand my reading adventures into Chinese literature which is kind of ironic because Soul Mountain is a book I possessed for nearly half a decade but it is only now that I am reading it. It was left to gather dust on my bookshelves, an injustice to China’s first ever Nobel Laureate in Literature. But better late than never I guess? And yes, I am reading works of Nobel laureates back-to-back; my prior read was Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House. Prior to this week, I barely had any perspective on Gao but reading his work has finally provided that opportunity.
For sure, after completing over a hundred pages of the book, Soul Mountain is quite a challenge. Gao’s most popular novel introduced me to two anonymous narrators who were also the novel’s primary character. Admittedly, I didn’t even realize that they were two separate characters! I just knew they were anonymous, well not entirely. One narrator was simply referred to as “You”. You was a man of the city, having spent the majority of his life soaking in the urban sprawl. However, the demands of fast-paced urban living were something has left him reflecting on what kind of life he wanted to spend the rest of his life. You then embarked on a journey to the Chinese countryside, with the goal of finding the elusive Lingshan, a sacred mountain: “Lingshan, ling meaning spirit or soul, and shan meaning mountain.” During his journey to find Lingshan, You met She, a fellow traveler. There were erotic undertones in their initial meeting but I haven’t read that far into the story. How their relationship will evolve are some of the things I am looking forward to in the story.
The second narrator, on the other hand, was referred to as I. I was a writer and an academic. Like You, I embarked on a journey. I has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, hence, his decision to travel to Sichuan, just like You. It seems both characters have journeys they want to fulfill. It was no surprise that the novel was described as “picaresque” by one literary critic. This goes against the book, somehow. You see, picaresque novels are not my cup of tea. Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Umberto Eco’s Baudolino somehow contributed to this biased view of this literary genre. Speaking of Don Quixote, the first plotline, that of You, is starting to take a similar trajectory as Don Quixote’s journey. You’s journey, it seems, looks like an exercise in futility. His intersection with She further reminded me of the Spanish classic.
All prejudices aside, I am still curious about how Gao will stir the narrative and make these two characters come full circle in their individual journeys. Somehow, I feel like their paths will converge somewhere down the road. It could also be that these two separate personas will merge into one; I did learn that the novel was loosely based on the author’s own adventures in the Chinese countryside. With a little less than four hundred pages more, a lot is bound to happen. On the writing. I find it a little complex. Sure, it has poetic and descriptive elements but the novel had the compunction to tell rather than show. As such, some paragraphs were quite lengthy. I guess I was right to be daunted by the book the first time I encountered it.
On another note, I hope that the story will start becoming more accessible as the story moves forward. I hope I can get my reading pace. The novel does require patience and quite a lot of it. Still, I can’t wait to see how it will all unfold. I also can’t wait to read more about how the novel reflects the author’s life and interiors. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. For now, happy weekend! And as always, happy reading and take care!
I can’t wait to see how the novel’s strands are tied up. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. For now, happy weekend! And as always, happy reading and take care!