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New Left Review 13, January-February 2002


Henry Zhao on Herbert Batt, ed.: Tales of Tibet; and Manoa special issue: Songs of the Snow Lion. The paradoxes of an experimental joint fiction in Inner Asia.

HENRY ZHAO

FORMS ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD

Fiction and Tibet: few have any difficulty with either term. But their conjugation poses a series of peculiar problems. In retrospect, the year 1985 was an annus mirabilis of new art and literature in the People’s Republic of China. Central to it was the emergence of important novelists, of both Tibetan and Chinese origin, whose fiction was set in Tibet. How should their work be described? Ought it to be grouped together? Herbert Batt’s collection, and the special issue of Manoa solve—or sidestep—the problem with different prepositions, a genitive and an ablative: Tales of Tibet, and Writing from Tibet. The first is, perhaps deliberately, ambiguous: does it refer to source, or subject-matter? The second indicates place of production, without specifying any producers. What we find inside these volumes is a body of work to be marvelled at, that has as yet hardly been seriously studied in the languages in which it is written, let alone in English. The publication of these collections is thus something of a landmark. They reward the reading of anyone interested in contemporary fiction.

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