Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens

László Krasznahorkai, trans. from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Seagull (Univ. of Chicago, dist.), $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-85742-311-5
A quest to discover the remaining artifacts and present-day incarnations of classical Chinese culture takes Man Booker International–winner Krasznahorkai (Seiobo There Below) on an illuminating, melancholy journey through contemporary China in this occasionally frustrating yet often dazzling travel memoir. Setting out in 2002, and calling himself László Dante to emphasize the dim view he takes of “the so-called New China,” Krasznahorkai, accompanied by an interpreter, treks from the Buddhist monasteries on Jiuhuashan Mountain to the cities of Nanjing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou, finding “monuments restored in the most dreadful and coarse ignorance,” “forgeries” in place of temples, and holy sites where “everything reeks from money.” Believing themselves finally to have found an authentic village dating back to the Ming era, the travelers settle in, only to see the place overrun by tourist groups. As László Dante meets with local cultural figures to discuss this state of affairs—including a professor of literary history and a successful fashion designer—his unshakable conviction is that “the Chinese are annihilating... their very own culture” and this will preclude the possibility of genuine exchange. Fortunately, he makes meaningful connections in unlikely places: the deputy director of a tiny traditional kunqu theater is entirely dedicated to his art form, and a tea-drinking party in the Garden of the Master of the Nets turns into an experience of transcendence that will be shared by readers. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/12/2015
Release date: 01/01/2016
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