Soul Mountain


I just finished reading “Soul Mountain” - the book that won the Nobel prize last year. I didn’t get it. Obviously some people thought it was really good, but I found it painful to read. The idea of ‘pronouns as protagonists’ was apparently really exciting, but I thought it was just annoying.

Can someone explain to me why this book was considered good enough for the Nobel prize?


Technically speaking, authors don’t win the Nobel for individual books but rather for their ouevre. So maybe his other works are more accessible. I haven’t read anything other than Soul Mountain, which I liked, so I won’t venture an opinion.

Here’s what the Swedish Academy had to say about its choice:

But sometimes there’s no accounting for taste. And, anyway, the Nobel committee doesn’t comprise the world’s finest writers but eighteen people in the Swedish Academy.

Here’s the unusual part of the 2000 prize: One of those eighteen happens to be Gao’s translator. This understandably raised questions of conflict of interest.

The Taipei Times published an interesting interview with the translator. The interviewer is someone who called Soul Mountain “by no means a novel, let alone a good one.” So you’re hardly alone in thinking the book isn’t worthy of a Nobelist.

You can find a pan of the book here:


Actually, I thought it was very readable!
This novel is one of the few ultra-modern
works that shows how contemporary mainland
China actually IS… The little vignettes
of daily life and the oddball characters and
strange social realities were very true-to-life
and enlightening… The ending is a trifle
cliched, but the meat in the middle is worth
it. I have travelled a lot through the
south-western regions (by bicycle) in which
the novel is set… The novel reminded me
of some of my impressions… You have to
understand that Chinese people are not
encouraged to write about how things actually
are in their country… This author does it
truly, and with an exceptional breadth.
As to the Nobel prize – few people actually
deserve the prize – and most of us will never
win it!