978-0-06-093626-6 / 9780060936266

One Man's Bible


Publisher:Harper Perennial



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About the book:

In the same circling, ruminative vein as his Nobel Prize-winning debut novel Soul Mountain, Chinese expatriate Gao Xingjian's fictionalized memoir of his youth, One Man's Bible, is an attempt to capture the Kafkaesque anxieties of the Cultural Revolution. As a budding writer, and the son of a white-collar worker, the unnamed narrator soon realizes that, no matter what useful friends he makes at school, he is vulnerable to investigation by the restless, politically unstable Red Guard: "Enemies had to be found; without enemies, how could the political authorities sustain their dictatorship?" Punishment for real or imagined "mistakes" of thought and behavior would have been death, imprisonment, or banishment to a labor farm. The only answer, he came to believe, was to blend in with the masses and to construct a mask of bland agreement with whoever appeared to be in charge at the time.

The bulk of Xingjian's absorbing narrative takes place in this bleak world of exposure, hysteria, and reprisals, and from an appropriately distant third-person point of view. But the act of recollection is spurred by a four-day-long affair with a near-stranger in the mid-1990s. The narrator, long exiled from China, has been brought to Hong Kong to help stage one of his plays. Here he runs into a German-Jewish woman, Margarethe, whom he knew slightly from his final years in China. For Margarethe, survival hinges on memory. It is she who persuades the narrator to let his painful, rigorously suppressed memories begin to thaw, and if not to drop his mask, at least to remember that he is wearing one. --Regina Marler

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