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U.S. Firm Buys Rights to Chinese Exile's Novel

October 19, 2000|BEVERLY BEYETTE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HarperCollins has bought the North American rights to "Soul Mountain," the seminal novel of dissident Chinese exile Gao Xingjian, who last week became the first Chinese to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

"Everyone was very interested in obtaining this book," Lourdes Lopez said at New York's George Borchardt Agency, the sub-agent for Australian Literary Management, which holds the English-language rights.

Lopez said, "We're not going to reveal the figures." It was a two-book deal, to include rights to Gao's second novel, "A Man's Bible," a story of the Cultural Revolution that is being translated into English.

"Soul Mountain" is a 560-page novel written in the 1980s and first published in Taipei. Autobiographical fiction, it is based on Gao's travels through remote provinces of Southern China during a months-long self-imposed absence from Beijing and government surveillance.

The Swedish Academy, in awarding Gao the $915,000 cash prize, said that in his writings, "literature is born anew from the struggle of the individual to survive the history of the masses."

The 60-year-old author, a French citizen living in Paris, was targeted for advocating "spiritual pollution" during Mao Tse-tung's 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and spent six years as an agricultural worker in China's political re-education camps. He moved to France in 1987.

"Soul Mountain" was published for the first time in English in 1999 by Flamingo, an imprint of HarperCollins Australia. It has been a bestseller there but has been available for sale in the United States only on the Internet.

Gao's plays and novel, considered to reflect dangerous Western influences, have been banned in his native land for a decade.

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