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By Gao Xingjian
Translated from the Chinese by Mabel Lee
New York: HarperColinsPublisher, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-057555-7
125 pages

Bob Corbett
March 2015

This is a gentle book, a collection of short stories, beautifully and sensitively told. The events are not newsworthy or monumental. Rather, they are tiny glimpses of everyday life, made noble by the intensity and beauty of the writing and sensibilities of the author.

The stories do not really tell a “story” as we normally conceive it. Rather they are glimpses of interesting moments or experience or memories in the lives of the characters. However, save for the very last story, I found them quite gripping and attractive.


The narrator, a humble worker, has just married Fangfang. He haggles and begs his foreman for a two week leave and they take off on a honeymoon.

In a tiny run-down village their train is sidelined so that an express train may pass and there will be a significant wait. On the spur of the moment they decide to take their bags, get off and simply explore this very tiny one-street village.

That gesture is a symbol of their innocence, their incredible delight in each other’s company, and wanting to establish the centrality of their “couplehood” in this new marriage.

They hear there is a temple at the top of the nearby hill and decide to get there. They do have to cross a knee-deep “river” (sounding much more like a tiny creek) and arrive at this ruin. It can’t be entered and they suspect it is even a storage place for the local commune.

An older man comes along, at first seeming threatening, but he turns out to be a very gentle and kind old man. There is a young boy with him who is really wanting the old man to hunt grasshoppers with him.

The newlyweds visit with the old man, and then just head back down to the village. They are just so excited to be married, have each other, and have declared, with this adventure, the nature of their coming life together.

The story is beautifully written and very sensitive and softly upbeat.


Two young folks meet in a park. They had once been lovers and contemplated marriage, but didn’t. Eventually, some six years or so earlier, they had parted company and this is their first visit since. She now is married and has a young son.

They talk somewhat about whatever went wrong in their relationship, and both seem to have some regrets of that lost love, yet neither at all suggests any further contact; this is a one-time only meeting to chat about that past.

They are quite aware of and discuss a young woman in the park who appears to be awaiting someone and eventually is distressed and soon sobbing that no one comes. They even discuss going to console her, but decide they will stay out of it. They don’t seem to see any irony in that their own discussion reflects being in a very similar position with one another those years ago.

He isn’t really sure why he contacted her, nor she why she has come to meet him in the park. However, each seems to recognize that the memories they each have of their past were of the best of times, yet now neither of them is wanting to change their present and in any way become involved again.

The story is very well written and a touch sad. There is a certain anger is the young man, and a certain nostalgia for the past in the young woman. The whole story sounds so convincing it could be something right out of someone’s diary.


A young man goes swimming alone in the sea as the sun is setting. He gets a stomach cramp and is in serious danger. He keeps his wits, knows what to do, goes slowly, keeping swimming toward shore, massaging the cramp.

Eventually he makes it to shore. It is a momentous moment for him, but he has no one to tell. Everyone is busy with their own things, and even his roommate is out somewhere else. It is a lonesome time.

The story is well written and for some time it’s not clear if he’ll make it. Since it is written in the third person all-knowing narrator, it isn’t necessary that he does survive, so the suspense was continuous.


A man is riding a bicycle with an attached buggy carrying a very young child. The man recklessly crosses in front of a somewhat speeding bus and is hit. The man on the bike is killed, but the child barely harmed.

The story centers on the dozens and dozens of people who either witness the accident or come along soon after, and what their comments are.

Nearly every view imaginable is expressed: the dead cyclist was at fault, the bus driver was, the cyclist was irresponsible, where was the mother? Was this an only child, and if so what will the mother do, and on and on and on.

At the very end the author himself even enters into the discussion:

“Of course a traffic accident can serve as an item in the newspaper. And it can serve as the raw material for literature where it is supplemented by imagination and written up as a moving narrative. This would then be creation.”

This could well be a lecture by a professor in his class on literature. On the other hand the author concludes:

“However, what is related here is simply the process of this traffic accident itself. . .”

I must say, given the detail of the report, when no reporter could have gotten all of it, I lean strongly toward the view of this story as literature and literature well-created.


The second sentence of the story tells us this is a very careful consumer. He is thinking of buying his grandfather a fishing rod and sees a sign offering an imported “fiberglass” rod. However he is skeptical:

“. . . it’s not clear if it’s the whole rod that’s imported or just the fiberglass, nor is it clear how being imported makes any of it better.”

The story is really a trip of nostalgia into the world of his childhood. He “goes there” (to his grandfather’s home) in his imagination filled with tales of grandpa and tigers and world cup soccer of 1986.

The fishing rod? He doesn’t even know. It sits in the bathroom, high up on the toilet tank near the ceiling to keep it away from his five year old son, but grandpa is long since dead and the story and the purchase was an act of nostalgia.

This is a stunningly beautiful tale!


This story seems to be a bit beyond where I was able to go. It appears to be the setting of dozens of different people who were simply going about their business as usual when a totally unexpected and shockingly huge and destructive storm hits. People are killed and lost and mayhem follows.

There are no connections among the many individuals and small groups who are enveloped by this catastrophe, but the situation of each is detailed in gruesome detail.

It was just beyond my ability to just sit back and allow the author to take me where he will. I found myself getting bored after a bit, and having a difficult time staying with the tale.

I was sorry that this was the very last story in the collection. Up to this point I had been taken in with and by his writing and delighted in the collection. This last story left me a bit uncomfortable to picking up another of his works for fear I would get less of the earlier stories and something more like the last. Alack, I fear I lose in this choice.

Bob Corbett


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