* 2020 Romain Rolland Prize
Album by album, chapter by chapter, Aura of the South witnesses the turmoils of decolonization, military government, and cross-cultural love through both the eyes and the camera lens of the famous Taiwanese photographer Teng Nan-Kuang.
It’s no secret that photography changed humanity forever. It became our benchmark for truth, our shortcut for memory, a shibboleth for unstoppable modernity. Album by album, chapter by chapter, Aura of the South witnesses the turmoils of decolonization, military government, and cross-cultural connection through both the eyes and the camera lens of the famous Taiwanese photographer Teng Nan-Kuang.
Chu He Chih’s richly detailed historical novel tells the tale of a man, a nation, and a world-changing technology growing and maturing together. When protagonist Teng Teng-Hui is born, Taiwan is a Japanese colony; his formal education includes years at a Japanese secondary school in Tokyo, a city just coming into its own as a modern metropolis. There, he picks up a camera for the first time.
From the 1930s until his death forty years later, Teng preserves with his lens many facets of life in Japan and Taiwan that would soon be lost to bombs and bulldozers. The book is divided not into chapters but “albums”, which take the reader through the stages of Teng’s life one collection of literary images at a time. Chu He Chih’s deeply historicized narrative revitalizes what once was, putting us behind the lens of the first hand-held point-and-shoot camera or in the gallery where the first avant-garde photographs were shown. It is a book of many moments at once, echoing each other to form the tale of one life amid the mosaic of history.