* 2021 Taiwan Literature Award
* 2021 Taiwan Literature Award for Best New Author
This dialogue between pilgrims – a Taiwanese naturalist and a Japanese monk – who converge in Tibet narrates the story of the mountainous former kingdom throughout decades of revolution, redevelopment, and environmental turmoil.
This dialogue between pilgrims – a young Taiwanese naturalist and a long-dead Japanese monk – who converge on the Tibetan plateau weaves multiple voices and narrative threads together into one complicated song of this storied, troubled region. Hsu Chen-Fu’s arresting narrative style, which carries us seamlessly from the icy domain of the snow leopard to sites of urban redevelopment, decay, and former conflict redefines creative non-fiction in Taiwanese literature.
The autobiographical protagonist is a Taiwanese writer, photographer, and graduate student in the natural sciences whose soul is tied to Tibet. Hsu describes in brilliant detail the vast beauty of the Tibetan plateau during his first two visits, when he tries unsuccessfully to catch sight of an elusive snow leopard. A scientist’s eye and a literary stylist’s heart draw us completely into his own narrative reality. On his third visit, however, he is dogged by Chinese police at multiple turns, some of his books are confiscated, and he is eventually forced home to Taiwan.
One book that escapes the censor, however, is Ekai Udagawa’s Taming the Blue Sheep, once the long-lost diary of a Zen monk who traveled to Lhasa to translate Buddhist scriptures directly from Sanskrit into Japanese. The diary, which tells the monks story up until his death as a recluse in Tibet in 1945, paints a picture of Tibet as it once was – a diverse, deeply religious culture that fought as hard as it could against invaders on multiple fronts. Hsu weaves excerpts from Ekai’s tale into his own investigation into Tibet as it was and is now, from the horrors of the Chinese military takeover in the 1950s through the Cultural Revolution and into the contemporary age of forced economic development. The polyphonic narrative weaves history, science, nature writing, and spirituality into a single narrative of change in the world’s most forbidding inhabited region.