Gao Xingjian

THE LAUREATE: Gao Xingjian was born in the 1940 in Jianxi, China. He studied French in college and eventually became a professional translator, after spending time as a laborer for the Go Down Into the Country movement. During the 80s, he emigrated to France not long before all his work was banned in China after the Tiananmen Square unpleasantness.

WHAT I’M READING: The stories in Buying a Fishing Rod For My Grandfather, although apparently I should be reading Soul Mountain. Oops.

REVIEW: Gao’s short stories remind me of James Joyce: there isn’t a traditional story arc or resolution. There is conflict, like there’s conflict in life, but there are never satisfactory conclusions. For instance, the title story starts with the narrator buying a fancy Western fishing rod for his grandfather and remembering that he used to fish with a bamboo rod he cut and hardened himself. He goes looking for his grandfather’s house and the lake they used to fish in, but the old village has been torn up and replaced with interchangeable apartment blocks and the lake has been cemented over. Then, he goes home and hangs the fishing rod up in the bathroom where the kids won’t get it, and reveals to us that his grandfather has been dead for thirty years.  I thoroughly enjoyed the picture into modern urban China.

RECOMMENDED: Yes. I will be reading the rest of his work that’s been translated into English. I’ve got his two novels, but I still need to track down the book of plays.

WHAT’S NEXT: Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, because contrasts are hilarious.

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