After three years of hard-work, Chinese writer Shi Tiesheng has published a new novel, My Sojourn in Ding Yi (Wo De Ding Yi Zhi Lu), which has been well received by both critics and the public.
For other authors this might be quite usual, but for the disabled Shi, this might be the story of a decisive hero who overcame ordeals and ailments to do the bravest work of his life.
Born in 1951, Shi became paralysed in both legs following a car accident at the age of 21. In 1998 he began to suffer from kidney failure and as a result has to go to hospital for dialysis treatment three times every week.
According to his close friend Chen Cun, Shi's frustrating health condition only allows him to write for several hours every two days.
"It is an arduous task for him to write a novel. It is just like a destitute man saving money to buy his own house. Now he has actually bought a house, and to our surprise, it is a big, noble house," Chen says.
We should therefore not only praise the author's remarkable perseverance, but also the excellence of his work.
The novel's abridged version was first published in the November 2005 issue of Dang Dai (Contemporary Era), one of the most prestigious literary periodicals in China.
It soon aroused the public's attention. Last year saw an array of novels in China's literary circle. Many famous writers, such as Wang Meng, Yu Hua, Mo Yan and A Lai, all published works, but My Sojourn in Ding Yi appeared to shine above the others.
The full version was published by the Beijing-based People's Literature Publishing House in early January.
Just as Chen has pointed out, Shi's work is truly startling a work that employs a structure unprecedented in the history of Chinese literature.
In the novel, an eternal spirit who travels in time from antiquity narrates the story. It sojourns in bodies of different people, from Adam, the first man and the progenitor of the human race, and the author himself, to the hero Ding Yi.
The three main characters "I" (the eternal spirit), Shi Tiesheng, and Ding Yi show up in the novel simultaneously or alternatively, and represent the three complementary layers of human mentality.
"I believe the novel will stir disputes. It is experimental and revolutionary," says Chen.
The novel begins with Adam's search for Eve. Yet rather uniquely, Shi does not use this as an opportunity to explore or discuss the origin of the human race.
Instead he has chosen these characters to question the meaning of true love. Through the narration of "I," the novel closely follows Ding Yi's relationship with the character Qin E, where the author explores the difference between sex and love.
"As a writer who has been bound to his wheelchair for more than 30 years, he has pondered a great deal on sex and love. These thoughts appear to have been depicted in this novel," says Yang Liu, the book's editor.
The meaning of life
Though the book's cover was designed by Shi himself, the author has remained silent, refusing to talk much about his latest work.
His only comment in answer to why he wrote his novel was: "I want to find enough reasons to live on." The quality of Shi's literary writing makes him stand among the best of contemporary Chinese writers.
But at the same time, one must not deny that his paralysis and health problems must have greatly influenced almost all of his works, including this most recent novel.
Why carry on living? What is the true meaning of life? These are the questions that Shi has been forced to confront since he lost the ability to walk 33 years ago.
For as long as 10 years, he struggled to come to terms with his fate and even considered suicide.
As he admitted in I and the Temple of Earth (Wo Yu Di Tan), he frequently suffered from depression and spiritual turmoil.
I and the Temple of Earth has been considered by many as one of the best Chinese prose essays of the 20th century.
The image of the autobiographical essay's hero, a forlorn, withdrawn young man sitting alone in a wheelchair in some unknown nook of the Temple of Earth, a desolated ancient park near his home, and brooding away days and seasons, has stirred deep and complex emotions in many readers' hearts.
Disabled at "the most vibrant age" of 21, Shi has pondered over the differences between his own life and death.
But later he conquered his sufferings, and has thus won the respect of the world. He chose literature as a profession since he could use it as an escape and a weapon.
Most of his former writings are distinguished by a philosophical meditation overtone and deep concern for general human existence, such as his numerous stories in which he subtly narrates troubled or confounded human lives, such as in his novel Note on Building an Emptiness (Wu Xu Bi Ji).
It is an impressive feat that although Shi has deeply explored his terrible fate he has never become resentful or sarcastic.
Setting out from his individual experience, he nonetheless invariably ends in thought about the common destiny of all humans.
Just as a critic has pointed out, when Shi suffers from his own pain, he feels he is shouldering the perpetual sufferance of humankind as a whole.
All these characters are fully retained in My Sojourn in Ding Yi, in which "I," as the narrator, frequently addresses life issues. As a result, the novel continuously makes thought-provoking comments.
Shi also maintains his characteristically poetic language in the novel, ensuring that it is a pleasure to read.
(China Daily January 6, 2006)