CITY GUIDE >Culture and Events
The king and I
By Liu Jun (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-07 10:34

The king and I 

Alai is the country's most famous Tibetan writer who writes in Chinese. Main photo by Feng Yongbin

When he was a shepherd in the remote mountains bordering Tibet autonomous region and Sichuan province, Alai hoped eagles wouldn't come to grab the sheep and wolves would stay away.

Today, the famed Tibetan writer hopes his novels and poems can help the world better understand his, sometimes, misunderstood people.

"As an intellectual, I want to express myself in my own voice and try to say only the truth," says Alai, whose latest offering, King Gesar, was launched worldwide last week as part of the Myth Series initiated by Canongate Books.

Word spread in 2003 that he'd join the Myth project and write King Gesar, the most famous Tibetan epic. However it wasn't all smooth sailing.

The author was already writing Hollow Mountains (Kong Shan), a 3-volume realistic work on six Tibetan villagers' fate against the fast-changing rural landscape.

It was another heavyweight effort after his first successful novel Red Poppies (Chen'ai Luoding) was published in 1988.

Another obstacle was the sheer scale of the project - previous novellas in the project had been less than 200,000 words but this limit was not enough for King Gesar - with 1.5 million lines and more than 2,000 years of history.

King Gesar is now the world's longest and most intact epic of its kind about the Tibetan king.

"I won't build a 'dinosaur skeleton', or cut my own toes to fit smaller shoes," jokes Alai, a short, stout chain smoker with a deeply sun-tanned face.

King Gesar, a subject on history, offered Alai great joy in writing.

The most striking feature is the parallel lives of King Gesar and ballad singer Jigme, both in search of their destinies.

King Gesar is reputed as a "living" epic because ballad singers still chant the songs in local villages.

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