Sat, Feb 03, 2001 - Page 11 News List

Sharing the Nobel limelight

Mabel Lee, Honorary Associate Professor of Chinese at the University of Sydney and translator of Gao Xingjian's 'Soul Mountain,' talks to 'Taipei Times' contributing reporter Bradley Winterton about her 10 years of contact with the work of the first-ever Chinese winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

The play doesn't provide answers, but instead encourages audiences and readers to reflect, and then form their own judgments.

Since that first meeting in Paris, Gao has visited Sydney three times, and I have stayed at his place twice, each time for a couple of days. He lives in an outer suburb of Paris, about 20 minutes in the metro from the center of the city. It's a one bedroom apartment, basic by any standard. When I stayed I would sleep on a sofa-bed in a small alcove with doors off the main living-room. He paints his huge paintings on the living room floor -- the table can be dismantled to make room. Before winning the Nobel he made his living from painting.

He works virtually every day, writing, reading, painting, or directing plays, and he organizes his time well. Breakfast was interesting when I shared it with him, and I suspect this was routine -- croissant, plus four beverages (warm milk, green tea, coffee, and orange juice).

I couldn't believe it when the BBC in London called 15 minutes after his Nobel Prize was announced. They said they'd call back 10 minutes later to interview me! My husband confirmed it on the Internet -- we didn't even know the prize was being announced that night. But I suppose I wasn't really surprised. When I was translating Soul Mountain I knew it was something special.

I started translating it without thinking of any reward. I only thought it was something that should be done. Now I find myself sprinkled with the gold dust of the Nobel.

I don't think Gao is particularly complex, but he is dedicated -- to literature, to theater, and to art. I guess he lost many years during the Cultural Revolution and is now making up for lost time. It's his general curiosity about human beings and their cultural artifacts that prompts him to go on learning, and reflecting on human life.

He is a kind person, and seems to radiate what might be described as an essential gentleness and goodness. He also has a wonderful sense of humor. I am very fond of him, and I find my feelings for him haven't changed. I suspect that most of his friends turn out to be friends for life.

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