In the end, when the protagonist of Dai Sijie’s new novel only has a few minutes to live, his truly long journey is summed up in a succinct fashion: Yong Sheng, says, “One of the best manufacturers of pigeon flutes, formerly a student at Nanjing Theological Seminary, Senior Chinese Reverend Putian, Head of the House of for orphans and a worker in the oil mill.”
Western theology and Eastern wisdom
The Chinese author Dai Sage, who lived in France for a long time and writes in French, would not be the narrator we know as if each of these life stages were not connected with sensory imagery, poetic dimensions and historical connections. Hardly anyone in the twentieth century, which the novel traces chronologically, has mastered the ancient culture of carving pigeon flutes.
Western theology generates its Gospels in the midst of Eastern wisdom – this is the original title “L’vangeile selon Yong Sheng”, in English which would be: The Gospel According to Yong Sheng. The encounter, blending and cross-fertilization of Western and Eastern spiritualities became one of the central themes of his story.
Drama of life as imagined
After all, it’s the vicissitudes of fate that actually make Yong Sheng a patron and make his home an orphanage, where he shows children that he can do magic. Behind the supposedly harmless work of the oil mill lie years of cruel humiliation and torture during the Cultural Revolution.
Yes, Yong Sheng deals with “the big story,” he once said, but: “For him, the big story was the opposite of reality. In his eyes, the dramaturgy was more like a fantasy.”
Based on the true biography of the grandfather
This sums up Dai Seiji’s poetry. In his world film Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2011), he condenses his autobiographical experiences (and then banishment during the Cultural Revolution) against a global historical backdrop into a sensual poetic tale between two worlds. This time it’s not his own experiences that he collects in a mosaic from 20th century China, it’s his grandfather’s story.
This means an opening of the narrative gesture from a focus revolving around a poetic idea to a line of perspective, which is also a historical perspective, in which the history of the event and the autobiography coincide. As in many autobiographical oriented novels, the story plays the main role as it is reflected in the life of the person being told here.
Narrated with deceptive sensuality
The dramatic art of the narrator is not reflected in the twists and turns of events, which were predetermined, but in the way in which a poetic dimension is opened beyond autobiography.
Succeeding in varying degrees of intensity across the various stages of life on this very long journey, the narrative flourishes above all else when Dai Sijie finds images that make his two main themes clear: the encounter of cultures and timeless sensual power. .
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