Notebook

Finding Balance

Some lives are so rich in experiences, contradictions, tensions, sufferings and joys that they do not seem to fit into a single biography. Such is the life of Zhu Xiao-Mei. Her autobiography, patterned on the Goldberg Variations, tells the story of an exceptional musical talent crushed by China’s cultural revolution, yet not extinguished. The account of how, in the re-education camp of Zhangjiako, she found an accordion used for a propagandist show, then managed to draw from it (and from the recesses of memory) Chopin’s Second Etude, opus 10, is proof of the human spirit’s resilience. From that moment, she who seemed to have lost everything, even her sense of self, was again ‘haunted by music’, especially that of Bach, which displayed to her the possible integration of opposites in harmony, balance, beauty. ‘If one has much to say, in life as in music’, writes Zhu Xiao-Mei, ‘one must take the time to say it.’ Thank God, she does. If you have not heard her Goldberg Variations, do listen. And hear her speak about them in Michel Mollard’s The Return is the Movement of Tao.