Source: World Literature 世界文学 (forthcoming in the bilingual journal World Literature accessible online at http://xuemo.cn/en/en_search.asp?q=World+Literature&t=1)
“Journey to Spiritualism in the Novel Into the Desert by Xuemo”
By Dian Li (University of Arizona)
Xuemo’s novel Into the Desert begins with this sentence: “Mountains of sand reached into the sky, dropping the sun closer to the grounds than when they’d set out.” Here “they,” as we quickly learn, are a father-daughter pair embarking on a nighttime trip into the desert. As we appreciate the beauty of the desert led on by this sentence, we are also besieged by the ominous feeling of a coming disaster: the reference to a fox (never a lucky animal in Chinese folklore), the howling wind and the bitter cold (often signs of the destructive forces of nature). Two pages later, the daughter, who was just nine years old, was left alone by her father: “She sat down to wait for Papa. Drowsiness slowly descended and enshrouded her like an enormous net.”
The abandonment of a child is a cruelty that no one can bear, worse yet, imagining how this child would have fared by herself in the unforgiving desert disturbs us endlessly, giving us a lingering anticipation that will foreshadow our transition from the Prologue to the main story of the novel, which turns out to be an extensive journey into the same desert, a place of both fear and spirituality.
“Early in the morning, before the sun made an appearance, Ying’er and Lanlan left their village for the salt lakes in the heart of the Gobi.” So begins the long journey into the desert in Chapter 1, which is cast in a detached but suggestive third-person narration rich in verbs but stingy in adjectives. We will find this style to be characteristic of Xuemo, a contemporary Chinese writer who has already enthralled many English readers with several translated works of fiction. Undoubtedly, many more will embrace him with this novel that was masterfully translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin. Continue reading