.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

Thinking Makes It So: Does something happen after the middle?

-A A +A
By Kelly LeVan

One hundred-forty pages into Gao Xingjian’s “Soul Mountain,” I realized I wasn’t getting it. I understood the basics: The narrator wants to go to Lingshan, translated as “Soul Mountain.” At least, one of the narrators wants to go. At least, I think there’s more than one narrator.That’s my problem: I can’t count.Sources about the book suggest the alternating voices, one speaking in the first-person and one in the second-person, give the single protagonist a way out of his own loneliness.This sounds a little too clever but still reasonable, right?However, neither of them seems that lonely to me.One has a beguiling girlfriend with dramatic patience for the narrator’s lengthy, mostly invented history lessons. The other, less of a showboat, travels alone, but makes friends just with the sound of his voice. Nearly everyone he meets gives him some kind of special treatment: dinner in a family’s private home, for instance, or access to museum holdings that aren’t displayed to the public.Anyhow, I decided I had given the novel, a Nobel prizewinner, enough of my free time. I wanted to finish Kurt Vonnegut’s “Hocus Pocus,” Ken Follett’s “The Pillars of the Earth,” about five New Yorkers and Oliver Sacks’ “Migraine,” too.These are all great books and magazines, I think. I have about 1,500 pages to go before I’ll know for sure.I love “Migraine,” mostly because I get migraines and feel like it’s all about me. I have yet to read beyond the symptoms of common and classical migraines, and am so looking forward to such sections as “Migraine Considered as an Archaic Form of Bodily Language” and “Slump Migraines.”In “Hocus Pocus” I’m waiting to find out how, after his university became a prison, a college professor became a prisoner. I mean, I know how, but what I don’t know is whether he’s guilty.In the really long Follett book, I witnessed a well-written, brutal hanging in the prologue, and am scared of chapter one.All in all, I have grown so accustomed to the beginnings and middles of books, I’ve almost forgotten how satisfying it is to read a conclusion. Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club” remains the only book I’ve recently finished – but I had to in order to review it for Mesa Public Library’s book-to-film series, which concluded last week.Perhaps if I promised you sensational readers of “Thinking Makes It So” a column reviewing “Soul Mountain,” I wouldn’t have gotten so persnickety about not knowing what was going on.Anyhow, earlier this week, I took the dog for a walk and returned the book to the White Rock Branch Library. Now, I sink back in my folding chair, lamenting that short jaunt in the burning hot, 45-degree sun.Slouching grotesquely, I find myself inexplicably writing about the book I gave up on – spending more time with its luminous demeanor, if not with its forest of pages.I enjoyed every page I did read, despite my increasing anxiety about the way the pages fit together. I loved the way the individual sentences move, each as intimate with the next as hairs on a head.I also appreciated how the narrator/s view the world: looking out, as opposed to in.In so many stories, especially those focused on a quest, the search becomes a search for self. I suspect that was happening in “Soul Mountain,” as well, but not in that cloying, self-centered way to which so many plots, and not a few newspaper columns, succumb.In “Soul Mountain,” the narrator/s assume their soul was not inside their psyche, nestled beside some memory of how their mother went wrong, but rather in the world: in stories of their ancestors, in relationships, in traveling, in the clouds on top of a mountain.I would never shirk my nightly bouts of introspection/insomnia, but I like the idea that who we really are is all around us, that we live in a buffet of self-identity, that all we have to do is pay attention and embrace it – and that, in effect, we can see ourselves in beautiful things.Now that the book has been re-shelved and I have committed to Vonnegut et al, I will find no more of myself in “Soul Mountain.” Maybe.I actually started the book out of a burgeoning interest in Chinese literature stemming from my imminent trip to China. I wanted to familiarize myself with the country and its history through its literature – my main route for understanding my own country as well.Although I began by thinking the novel would help me understand China, I now have a candle-full of hope that once I see China in person, I will understand the book. Before, I wanted to go to China purely for the adventure. Now, I have a second reason, or is it the same? Like the narrator/s, I could find “Soul Mountain.”