BUYING A FISHING ROD FOR MY GRANDFATHER: Stories

Gao Xingjian, Author, Mabel Lee, Translator , trans. from the Chinese by Mabel Lee. HarperCollins $17.95 (127p) ISBN 978-0-06-057555-7

Six stories, published in Chinese between 1983 and 1991, offer a sample of Nobel-winner Gao's sharp, poetic early work. In "The Temple," the unnamed narrator and his new bride alter their honeymoon plans to pause in a provincial town. Though the two are blissfully happy, they find the town's inhabitants and its Temple of Perfect Benevolence vaguely disquieting. A muted reference to the Cultural Revolution ("It all felt so different from the time when we were graduates sent to work in the countryside") may explain the unease. Gao (Soul Mountain ; One Man's Bible ) explores the simultaneous enormity and anonymity of death in "The Accident," when a man on a bicycle with an attached baby buggy rides, either carelessly or deliberately, into a bus. The man is killed, but his young son survives; a crowd forms, passing around rumors, while the cops take away the bus driver and the blood on the road congeals. The title story employs collages of memory and haunting daydreams to mourn the destruction of the narrator's grandfather's village. A "sparkling lake" has been paved over, and the river where the narrator and his grandfather used to fish is dry: "The sand murmurs that it wants to swallow everything. It has swallowed the riverbank and now wants to swallow the city along with your childhood memories and mine." Gao intends his stories to reveal "the actualization of language and not the imitation of reality"—storytelling, in other words, is not his goal. These spare, evocative pieces bear that out; often the lovely prose (nicely translated by Lee) is reward enough. (Feb. 6)

Reviewed on: 01/12/2004
Release date: 02/01/2004
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Paperback - 127 pages - 978-0-06-057556-4
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