Celebrated author Ku De-Sha looks back on her life as a factory worker in 1960s Taiwan, when the first explosion of industrial prosperity – and the cycles of boom and bust that came with it – shaped an entire generation of people’s lives. The prize-winning novelist takes us through that age and into her own private battles with cancer and with the endless obstacles of a writer’s life.
Celebrated author Ku De-Sha grew up in the 1960s, an age of new industrial prosperity and precarity in Taiwan unlike anything the island had ever seen before. Taiwan’s textile industry, which seemed to bloom overnight into a global force, did so on the backs of entire villages of factory workers and private subcontractors. Even after winning multiple literary prizes in her youth, Ku De-Sha eventually joined that workforce, until a fight with cancer and a return to writing liberated her from it.
Part I of Speak, Memory describes Ku’s childhood in Chiayi and her transition after her father’s death from a traditional Fujianese household to a village community. In Part II, she takes us inside the vast network of factories, household contractors, and working villages that provided the raw labor on which Taiwan’s textile explosion was built, and her many years trying to be the best worker and wife she could be. Part III depicts an even more arduous struggle: Ku’s decade-long battle with cancer that inspired her to return to the writing life.
Speak, Memory is a momentously important piece of literary nonfiction because it weaves Ku De-Sha’s individual experiences into the broad cloth of a significant, collective memory. That integration of the singular and plural concern lends further resonance to her story of her return to life and an artistic self.