Book Review: 'Soul Mountain'
Near the end of playwright and 2000 Nobel laureate Gao’s querulous mock epic — his first high-profile U.S. publication — the narrator dyspeptically anticipates critical reaction. An imaginary pundit denounces the novel as a faded mimeograph of dead Western modernism, a casserole of specious and self-evident journal-entry profundities, a botched experiment in POV acrobatics: The attacks are so savage, and so spot-on, you’ll be tempted to giggle. And that’s okay, because Gao’s bout of metatextual self-consciousness makes the perfect punchline to this massively bleak comedy of individualism and its limitations, loosely based on the author’s semi-voluntary exile in rural China. Too bad he didn’t let his translator in on the joke: Mabel Lee’s leaden, literal English has all the supple irony of a party loyalty oath. C+