In 1915, fourteen years before Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Döblin published his first novel, an extensively researched Chinese historical extravaganza: The Three Leaps of Wang Lun. Even more remarkably, given its subject matter, the book was written in Expressionist style and is now considered the first modern German novel, as well as the first Western novel to depict a China untouched by the West. It is virtually unknown in English. Based on actual accounts of a doomed rebellion during the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the late 18th century, the novel tells the story of Wang Lun, a historical martial arts master and charismatic leader of the White Lotus sect, who leads a futile revolt of the “Truly Powerless.” Densely packed cities and Tibetan wastes, political intrigue and religious yearning, imperial court life and the fate of wandering outcasts are depicted in a language of enormous vigor and matchless imagination, unfolding the theme of timidity against force, and a mystical sense of the world against the realities of power.
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