cover image ONE MAN'S BIBLE


Gao Xingjian, Xingjian Gao, , trans. from the Chinese by Mabel Lee. . HarperCollins, $26.95 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-06-621132-9

In his second novel to be translated into English, Gao combines the form of the Chinese travel journal with a novelistic technique that Milan Kundera (a kindred spirit) once labeled "novelistic counterpoint"—a cadenced movement between the modes of essay, vision and story. The heart of the novel is a fragmented sequence of memories lifted from the Cultural Revolution, anchored by an unnamed "he" approximately Gao himself. The narrative often jumps forward to the present, exploring the narrator's relationships with two women: Margarethe, a German Jew fluent in Chinese, and Sylvie, an apolitical French artist. Mao's China, according to Gao, was a Hobbesian world of revenges, lynchings and millennial fervor. To be human, in that epoch, was to denounce. To be inhuman was to be denounced. The narrator/protagonist is a university-educated intellectual. He engages in an affair with Lin, a beautiful woman married to a high-ranking military official and becomes, briefly, the leader of a Red Army faction. He investigates an almost fatal blot on his files—his father once owned and sold a gun and is "reformed" at a cadre "school," or labor camp. Finally, he escapes certain death in Beijing by getting transferred to a rural village. Gao, like Kundera, detects the totalitarian impulse in the politicization of everyday life, which is so easily summed up in the '70s slogan, "the personal is the political": "You want to expunge the pervasive politics that penetrated every pore, clung to daily life, became fused in speech and action, and from which no one at that time could escape." For Gao, even under the glaze of sexuality, the denunciatory animal is always lurking. When Gao won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000, he was unknown in this country. This novel should justify his prize to doubters. (Sept. 6)