The two outstanding literary characteristics of Gao Xingjian’s masterful novels Soul Mountain and One Man’s Bible are autobiographical elements and formal experimentation. At one level, the narrative of Soul Mountain is driven by Gao’s personal impressions gathered during his own travels to the remote southwestern parts of China’s Sichuan province and his subsequent journey along the Yangze River to its estuary into the East China Sea in 1983. Similarly, One Man’s Bible tells of both the horrors and the tribulations witnessed and endured by Gao during the disastrous years of the Cultural Revolution, unleashed by Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong and his wife Jiang Qing from 1966 to 1976, and the upheavals and ironies of the subsequent post-Mao era witnessed by the author.
What further distinguishes both novels is Gao’s forceful use of stylistic experimentation and literary innovation. Most strikingly, Gao splits the persona of his protagonists into different entities by means of experimentation with personal pronouns. In Soul Mountain, the narrator’s “I” is juxtaposed with a second character addressed only as “you,” who acts as if he were a different person, even though “you” is another part of the narrator’s self. Midway into the novel, to create another level of self-alienation leading to self-awareness, “you” is left behind to become “he,” described as a shadow of the...
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