For ten years, A Lai, the renowned Tibetan writer, has disappeared from China's literature scene.
Despite his absence, few people can forget "When the Dust Settles," his last novel, which swept all over the country and won A Lai the "Maodun Award," the highest literature award in China.
"Once I devote myself to the writing, it is like indulging in a crazy and bitter love. When it is over, I am a dry riverbed deprived of all water and energy. And I can't start another such love for some time," A Lai said.
When he was not writing a new novel, A Lai worked as an editor of a magazine, later as the editor-in-chief of five magazines and is currently the president of large publishing company. In his busy daily life as a publisher, writing new stories seems to be left behind.
But his flaming love of literature has never died in his heart. This May A Lai has released "Empty Mountain," another full-length novel, part of a 700,000-word series which he plans to complete in two years.
"After so many years I am again burning with passion," he said.
The series records the history of Jicun, a Tibetan town and the life stories of the villagers over the past decades. The mysterious Tibetan culture, the old local religion, uncanny stories of the villagers, the disintegration of the traditional lifestyle and the surprising development of new things in the village, are weaved together to form a heavy and complicated novel.
"It is tragic, beautiful and cruel," said A Lai. "Through the stories of the nomadic noble woman, the koradji, the secularized Lama, the revolutionary activist and other ordinary villagers, you can see how indifference kills lives and how the process of modernization gradually destroys a remote county's own culture."
And this is what A Lai has discovered and worried about for many years. Growing up in a small Tibetan village in Sichuan, working as a farmer and driver for nearly 10 years in his hometown before he moved to the city of Chengdu, he has witnessed the great changes of such counties.
"It is a difficult problem, especially for minority villages. When the old county culture is destroyed and their own national culture is greatly changed by mainstream culture, people get lost and find no new culture to live with."
To many readers his poetic language, novel description, and unique Tibetan cultural background make his book fresh and unique.
No one knows how hard A Lai has worked to get such attention.
After graduating from middle school, he returned to his home village and became a shepherd. After one year he went to a construction site, driving tractors there. When the "cultural revolution" ended, he tried his best to pass the university entrance examination and later worked as a teacher, then as an editor of a small magazine.
"I spent all my time writing and publishing many poems and short novels. But nobody noticed me."
A dozen publishers refused to print his first novel "When the Dust Settles." Four years later when the novel was printed, it became an immediate success and was even the bestseller of the year.
"For minority writers, it is usually harder to get enough attention from the mainstream culture. There are too few successful minority writers in today's literature circle, which is really a sad thing." A Lai said.
But he has never given up or had any regret for the road he has taken.
"I am a Tibetan writer lingering between the culture of China and Tibet. I listen, see and write different souls and hearts in these two different languages. It is the most unique experience of my life."
(China Daily 06/03/2005 page7)
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