Reflections from a higher plane pt.4

Travel anecdotes and notes

Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian

Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian

A series of observations, imaginings and happenings on a recent globe spanning flight.

Still in Hong Kong—but only just—I pass a book store on my way to the departure gate. It is called 'Relay', as proclaimed by floor to ceiling signage—a western style franchise, one of several in this wing of the airport alone. I can't get over the fact that the name really doesn't match the trade, meaning presumably lost in translation in some Hong Kong ad agency. My sense of the absurd aside, I am drawn inside by pressing need for long-haul distraction.

Passing by books of politics and righteous causes which I now avoid rather than avidly read, I end up in Asian Literature and Biography, my eye drawn of its own volition towards a familiar name on a large, bright book spine centre shelf— Alan Spence. I know this name not as an author but fellow student of Sri Chinmoy, a fact confirmed on the inside back cover, naming him leader of the Sri Chinmoy Meditation Centre in Edinburgh. Not in disagreement with his profession, or this particular practise of it—five minutes before I was only dimly aware that he was a published author, and am now more than impressed—I am instead drawn one shelf down to a Nobel Literature Prize winner, Gao Xingjian, and his book Soul Mountain.

Despite the best possible credentials, intriguing title and a premise hinting at depth and authorial insight, I abandon the book fifty pages and thirty minutes into my flight, not because it contains none of these qualities—in a fashion at least, but because it simply does not resonate with me. Sadly, and against my high expectations, I discern no inner truth or heart in the writing, the only forms of insight that I look for in the work of others. I wonder how a great author can be translated except by another great author, and whether this is the case here—a book translated by an academic rather than writer. This is another reason for my disinterest—so much is gained in writing by the deliberate choice and ordering of words.

I only buy books when I travel, and to my mild regret have not the time to keep up with what is current in literature. This situation, combined with my unrealistic hope to chance upon something brilliant on the occasional blue moon I do make a purchase—as I did not so long ago with Gregory David Roberts' Shantaram —makes this particular traveling custom a hit and miss affair at best. It is just as well that I never buy hardcover.