• Grant for the Publication of Taiwanese Works in Translation (GPT)
    Apr 10, 2024 / By Books from Taiwan

    GPT is set up by The Ministry of Culture to encourage the publication of Taiwanese works in translation overseas, to raise the international visibility of Taiwanese cultural content, and to help Taiwan's publishing industry expand into non-Chinese international markets.

    Applicant Eligibility: Foreign publishing houses (legal entity) legally registered or incorporated in accordance with the laws and regulations of their respective countries.


    1. The so-called Taiwanese works must meet the following requirements:

    A. Use traditional characters
    B. Written by a natural person holding an R.O.C. identity card
    C. Has been assigned an ISBN in Taiwan
    i.e., the author is a native of Taiwan, and the first 6 digits of the book's ISBN are 978-957-XXX-XXX-X, 978-986-XXX-XXX-X, or 978-626-XXX-XXX-X.

    2. Applications must include documents certifying that the copyright holder of the Taiwanese works consents to its translation and foreign publication (no restriction on its format).

    3. A translation sample of the Taiwanese work is required (no restriction on its format and length).

    4. The translated work must be published within two years, after the first day of the relevant application period.

    Grant Items:

    1. The maximum grant available for each project is NT$600,000, which covers:

    A. Licensing fees (going to the copyright holder of the Taiwanese works);
    B. Translation fees;
    C. Marketing and promotion fees (applicants for this funding must propose a specific marketing promotion plan and complete the implementation before submitting the grant project results; those whose plans include talks or book launching events attended by authors in person will be given priority for grants);
    D. Book production-oriented fees;
    E. Tax (20% of the total award amount);
    F. Remittance-related handling fees.

    2. Priority consideration is given to books that have received the Golden Tripod Award, the Golden Comic Award, the Taiwan Literature Award, books on Taiwan’s culture and history, or series of books.

    3. The grant will be given all at once after the grant recipients submit the following written documents to the Ministry before the submission deadline in accordance with article III, paragraph 5 of this application guidelines:

    A. Paper receipt with signature or stamp (format given along with the Ministry's formal announcement);
    B. A detailed list of expenditures, sales volume (or expected sales volume) of translated books, and marketing promotion plan results;
    C. 10 print copies of the final work published abroad (if the work is published in an e-book format, grant recipients shall instead provide purchase authorizations for 10 persons).

    Application Period: Twice every year. The MOC reserves the right to change the application periods, and will announce said changes separately.

    Announcement of successful applications: Winners will be announced within three months of the end of the application period.

    Application Method: Please visit the Ministry’s official website (https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/), and use the online application system.

    For full details of the GPT, please visit https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/PointDetail.jsp?__viewstate=oRWyc5VpG+O99KDT3kS+ZusiG3bVYvlI7oJCOHz4L408lIe/efs7z+WTtc3mBJBkYvZhpy/Mg9Q=

    Or contact: [email protected]

  • Book Report: Post-CCP China
    Jan 30, 2024 / By Petula Parris

    In Post-CCP China, Taiwanese author Fan Chou sets out by clarifying a seemingly obvious point – China is not the CCP. In this book, Fan draws on his own experience and dealings in China – where he spent more than 20 years running various businesses – to unpick the current state of the CCP and make predictions for China’s future. Fan views the CCP as an inflexible authoritarian regime approaching the end of its natural lifespan, and thus treats its eventual demise as an inevitability. However, rather than focusing on “whether” the CCP will disintegrate (as was the premise of Gordon Chang’s The Coming Collapse of China in 2001), Fan seeks to identify the stakeholders – domestic and foreign – that are likely to decide the various potential outcomes in a post-CCP era.


    This book contains nine chapters. The first three chapters focus on the book’s main premise, China’s economic development and status quo, and China’s political development and status quo, respectively.


    Chapter One aims to define what is meant by the “disintegration” of the CCP. In Fan’s opinion, the CCP’s political legitimacy largely relies on China’s economic performance and wealth creation and, as such, the CCP’s fiscal competence is closely correlated to its survival. In his trademark style, Fan mixes hard facts and light-hearted metaphors to prime the reader on China’s current economic challenges, for example: In 2008, China had $375 billion worth of external debt and $1.95 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. In 2021, it was $2.75 trillion and $3.25 trillion, respectively. Put another way, if [my friend] Old Wang had $1.95 trillion worth of cash stashed under his bed in 2008, he owed $375 billion of that to his fellow villagers. In 2021, the pile of cash under his bed had grown to $3.25 trillion, but he owed his fellow villagers $2.75 trillion.


    In Chapter Two, Fan explores why so many people are reluctant to contemplate the impossible: that a political behemoth such as the CCP could possibly cease to function. Fan takes the unexpected fate of the Titanic and Twin Towers as metaphors to identify the most vulnerable point in the CCP’s power structure. Again, in his witty narrative, Fan takes the reader through the main junctures of China’s stunning economic development and explains why he believes Xi Jinping’s policies threaten to speed up the CCP’s demise – while also pointing out that it is not too late for political reform.


    Meanwhile, Chapter Three walks the reader through China’s political development prior to and after 1949. He challenges common rhetoric around the CCP’s political ideology (which, in Fan’s opinion, is more rooted in Chinese legalism than Marxism), and also points out what he considers to be glaring anomalies in the story of “one China” (such as the fact that Mao Zedong once advocated carving China up into 27 independent states). In this chapter, Fan also analyzes Xi’s wavering attempts to settle on an effective ideology for his rule. He warns that by overturning China’s presidential term limit and further centralizing his power, Xi is taking China and the CCP into dangerous, uncharted territory.


    The book’s next two chapters focus on the domestic and international forces that could potentially affect China’s outcome should the CCP disintegrate. Chapter Four subdivides Chinese society along a multitude of political and geographical lines, giving a brief outline of the main traits and importance of each subdivision. In doing so, Fan underscores that China is a vast society with significant cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity. Again, this is not an academic analysis; rather, Fan provides his own sharp – and sometimes provocative – view on the status of each subdivision of China’s political system or national territory. For example, he says of the Chinese army in the face of fiscal troubles: “Nationalism is the only way to hold the PLA together. Shouting about it loud enough avoids a military coup. But soldiers can’t eat nationalism. Once the [CCP’s] money runs out, the PLA will fragment. Or on the region of Xinjiang, which accounts for one sixth of China’s total area: A person’s view on Xinjiang can be used as a litmus test for their concept of ‘China’, as well as to measure their views on a ‘unified China’. If you observe carefully or push for opinions, you will discover that many people wishing to see the end of the CCP are, at the same time, opposed to an independent Xinjiang. How does this make any sense? If you understand this phenomenon, you will also likely understand Putin’s difficulty in accepting an independent Ukraine.”


    Chapter Five deals with international factors, as it assesses the significance of different countries and regions on China’s future. For example, Fan points out how conflict around water sources is a potential flashpoint between India and China, how post-CCP China could learn from the experience of Vietnam’s communist government in terms of political reform, and that the success of Taiwan in building a democratic Chinese-speaking society poses one of the biggest threats to the future of the CCP.


    Although for Fan the demise of the CCP in its current state is inevitable, Chapter Six begins by summarizing the main arguments for and against the possible collapse of the CCP. This is followed by a “spectrum” of scenarios that might occur should the CCP disintegrate – from minor changes (such as changing the name of the CCP and enacting Vietnamese-style political reform) to major upheavals (such as China becoming a federation). In a similar vein, Chapter Seven discusses various ways China may reorganize itself according to which foreign forces are more successful at vying for influence.


    As this book was written for a Taiwanese audience, Chapter Eight addresses Taiwan-specific issues and offers recommendations as to how Taiwan should ready itself for a potential conflict with China. Similarly, the book’s final chapter mostly takes the form of a “letter” written to the citizens of the PRC (mirroring the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” released by the Chinese government in 1979) from the Taiwanese people.


    The author’s somewhat provocative take on China and the CCP strikes a similar tone to that of The Invention of China by Bill Hayton. However, unlike The Invention of China (which makes for denser reading and requires a firm grounding in Chinese history), Post-CCP China explains China’s political history, economic situation, and cultural matters in a more anecdotal, op-ed style and, therefore, minimal knowledge of China is required to enjoy this book. The book is also structured in short, easy-to-digest sections. As such, this book would be suitable for a general readership with an interest in China.


    Fan Chou is a writer, columnist, and entrepreneur. He writes regularly on cross-strait issues for various news publications in Taiwan and has published several books on related topics. He holds an MA in Philosophy from Columbia University.

  • Book Report: Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics
    Jan 30, 2024 / By William Ceurvels

    The story of Chinese medicine in Taiwan over the last century has been one of survival: the profession was nearly eradicated through a Japanese modernization campaign during the occupation, then suffered from a serious legitimacy crisis surrounding the use of steroids in Chinese patent medicines mid-century, and in the modern era, this age-old medicine now struggles to remain relevant in a world increasingly dominated by western and scientific worldviews. Against this rather dire backdrop, Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics is a necessary and welcome addition to the Taiwan book market – an accessible, but thorough introduction to Chinese medicine meant to engage and secure the attention of scroll-happy zoomers and millennials with a blend of humor, relatable real-life scenarios, illustrations and a down-to-earth writing style.  


    With its cryptic, symbolic language and ancient conceptual models, Chinese medicine must seem like an archaic relic of the pre-modern Chinese world to a younger generation of Taiwanese whose only exposure to such concepts comes from passing references in Jin Yong novels and fantasy mobile games. Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics aims to translate the abstruse conceptual landscape of Chinese medicine into a language that the younger generation can easily identify with and understand through the prism of their own modern worldview. To this end, Faces Publishing has enlisted “Siwutopia”, a group of young Chinese doctors at the China Medical University Affiliated Hospital who has built up an impressive following on Instagram and Facebook by creating Chinese medicine-related content that blends cutesy and humorous graphics with culturally relevant topics such as, “is your constitution suited to drinking coffee?” and “what to do about period pain?” The book maintains the relatable style of Siwutopia’s online content and employs a variety of strategies to ensure a “painless introduction to Chinese medicine”, as the cover advertises.


    But why would any introduction to Chinese medicine be “painful”? As it turns out, the ancient healing modality can actually be overwhelmingly complex to the uninitiated – Chinese medicine employs a gamut of pre-modern logic systems such as five-element theory, root and branch theory, five movements and six qi etc., and its understanding of how the body functions, the body’s constituent parts and the pathogenesis of disease all vary significantly from Western medicine. Thus, presenting all this information in a way that doesn’t make cram school-weary youngsters feel like their reading another textbook is no small task, but Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics accomplishes this feat quite successfully.


    The first thing that stands out is the language – Siwutopia’s prose is highly conversational; they addresses the reader directly and often refers to himself in joking asides. This conversational style helps to draw the reader in and alleviate any sense of alienation that may result from the highly technical and unfamiliar nature of the material. Additionally, by referring to themselves as the “clinic director” and peppering his speech with Taiwanese phrases, Siwutopia evinces an avuncular quality that instills both comfort and trust in the reader.


    Siwutopia has also created a cast of characters that imbue a human element to otherwise difficult and unfamiliar theory: Lanky Joe and Miss Curves are a brother-sister duo whose misadventures appear in short comics at the beginning of every chapter and demonstrate how each subject is relevant to the life of an average person. In most of the comics, the two teens are also joined by a pair of ghost-like characters named Lil’ Yin and Lil’ Yang. The two function almost like a Chinese cross-talk duo, with Lil’ Yin playing the straight man who explains difficult Chinese concepts to Lanky Joe and Miss Curves, while Lil’ Yang just tries to cook up trouble and find the punchline. In one of the early chapters on Chinese vs. Western medical theory, Miss Curves complains to Lanky Joe that her Chinese doctor told her she had a wind stroke. Lil’ Yang feigns concern for her “serious condition”, but Lil’ Yin quickly intervenes to assure Miss Curves that this is simply a matter of differing terminology and she has nothing to worry about. These comics offer a nice reprieve after the more theory-laden back halves of each chapter and zoomers will no doubt identify with the brother-sister duo’s humorous misunderstanding of concepts in Chinese medicine.


    Explaining Chinese medical concepts to a lay audience is a difficult task, but Siwutopia is skilled at using analogy and familiar examples from everyday life to lend context and clarity to the reader. Particularly admirable is Siwutopia’s explanation of the Chinese medical concepts of qi, blood and fluid by way of a steam-powered train. Qi, Siwutopia explains, can be likened to the steam that powers the engine, while blood and fluid are like the raw materials used to produce the steam. Despite qi being an inscrutable and hard to define concept, the steam engine image will be immediately comprehensible to lay audiences on an intuitive level. Going along with the transportation theme, Siwutopia likens Chinese medicine’s channel system to “highways and byways”, while describing acupoints as “checkpoints along the highway that can signal an issue in that locality”. Just like the steam-engine analogy, this portrayal of the channels and acupoints is instantly comprehensible without sacrificing any accuracy. Siwutopia also makes expert use of common ailments familiar to even the least medically-minded teen to demonstrate certain less obvious Chinese medical concepts. In Chinese medicine, wind is considered an external pathogen that has a swift, protean, and unpredictable nature, but this can be a difficult concept to grasp. Siwutopia uses the common skin disease urticaria to bring the concept of wind to life, noting how Chinese physicians recognize urticaria as a wind-related disease because the skin lesions come and go quickly and without any predictable pattern.

    Ultimately, even after deploying all the ingenious strategies described above, the average young reader may inevitably still tire from a ceaseless stream of didactic material, but Siwutopia has yet another ace up their sleeves – sandwiched between theoretical material at the beginning and end of each chapter, are practical guides for putting all this new knowledge to use. For instance, in the chapter on eye strain, Siwutopia recommends massaging two acupoints when the eyes become sore after reading and even shares an herbal tea that can be used to “nourish the eyes”. In the section on acne, an interactive chart teaches the reader how to diagnose their own acne by location: acne on the forehead is a “heart” issue, suggesting an overactive mind, while acne on the left cheek indicates a “liver” disfunction for which the afflicted party should avoid going to bed too late. This interactive content compels the reader to experience the medicine for themselves, further reducing the distance between the westernized Taiwanese zoomer and this ancient healing system.


    Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics is that despite all the attempts to humanize and simplify the medicine in this volume, Siwutopia manages to sneak in a surprising level of detail and depth in their descriptions of various ideas. I was amazed to find a table containing differential diagnosis for various organ-related coughs, detailed discussion of the role the Chinese medical notion of the “lung” plays in constipation, and a section on the lesser-known, eye-based diagnostic system called “five wheels and eight belts”. If not for the histrionics of Siwutopia’s motley cast of characters, the illustration-heavy presentation style and informal, vernacular feel of the prose, such in-depth material would certainly be too much for the tik-tok attention spans of the average teen, but the headier content is broken up just enough to maintain that “painlessness” while also delivering a substantive representation of the medicine’s theoretical precepts.


    Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics is the perfect remedy for an ancient medical system struggling to remain relevant, a volume that balances a hyper-awareness and attentiveness to the aesthetic of its audience while never compromising the complexity and, indeed, the dignity of this profound and powerful system of medicine. As Taiwan continues to westernize, Siwutopia’s “painless” didactic model may well serve as an effective and important strategy for transmitting this valuable knowledge to successive generations.

  • Editor’s Note: Beastosis
    Jan 30, 2024 / By Kaiting Chan ∥ Translated by Joel Martinsen

    Are you familiar with Plato’s Cave? People in a dark cave discuss the shadows that firelight projects onto a wall and are convinced they are real, when in fact reality can only be reached by facing the flames, leaving the cave, and experiencing pain. Inspired by this allegory, novelist Chiou Charng-Ting tells the story of an epic journey of two brothers between a shadow world and the real world.


    Like the firelit images on the wall, the shadow world is entirely an imitation of the real world. This is the starting point for the author’s fantasy worldbuilding, with analogues for Taiwan and China, Han and Indigenous peoples, power and oppression, transgender issues, incest, environmental destruction, extinction, and the craft of fiction. Its sumptuous literary feel is spiced with the genre flavor of fantasy: magic here is called “mimesis” (the pronunciation of the two terms is similar in Chinese), and the abilities of magicians – “mimesists” – emanate from “believing the world is false in order to obtain the greatest mimetic power”. They can raise the dead, summon typhoons, transform gender, and cause pregnancy – nothing short of omnipotence.


    In addition to the mimesists, there are other magical beings – beast spirits that can talk – who exist only in the shadow world, born of the love and memories people in the real world have for extinct creatures. There they seek out people chosen by fate and dwell within their spiritual voids, granting contentment and wondrous powers to the sad and lonely and serving as humanity’s eternal animal companions.


    Beastosis opens on the Isle of Wan, a stand-in for Taiwan, where five clans under the dominion of the powerful state of Midong rule with ruthless brutality over a destitute people. A pair of brothers, Taibang and Luan, light the fuse of revolt on the island. For the sake of his younger brother, elder brother Taibang refuses his destined union with a clouded leopard spirit, but the witch Utux, a person with a bird spirit bent on provoking a rebellion, needs his power. She schemes to separate the brothers so that Taibang will unite with the clouded leopard and join the revolutionary army. The revolution falters, and when Taibang dies, his bones are carried off by a Midong scholar for display in a foreign museum. However, having foreseen his death, Taibang had entreated the shaman Ivivigi to carve a mimetic totem into his skull bearing blessings that will one day be conveyed to the heart of his still-living younger brother.


    Luan is fated for great things but lives a complicated life: his male body houses a woman’s mind and he is in love with Taibang. When Utux separates the two, she commands her underlings to take Luan to safety, but they are waylaid by the golden rooster goddess, the head of the powerful Chin clan, who reveals Luan’s identity as the heir to the Chin family. She cannot permit him anywhere near the five families, so she erases his memory and sends him into exile.


    Over the next decade, Luan grows up abroad, his love for his elder brother forgotten, and lives as a woman under the name Lily. In college, she befriends Yasuko, whose subsequent murder puts her on the path to crime. After hunting down and killing the murderer and awakening her mimetic power, she learns that this has been “a mimesist test”. The examiner, using the name Black Antelope, informs Lily that the answers she’s looking for can be found in a foreign museum. There, she finds Taibang’s skull. The sound of his last wish causes her lost memories to return, and she makes a deal with Black Antelope: if he instructs her how to resurrect Taibang, she will infiltrate the five clans on the Isle of Wan so he can play a game with another mimesist called White Ape.


    The five clans are embroiled in a storm of their own. Although the revolution failed, it left the clans splintered, and now a series of assassinations have targeted the leadership at the most inopportune moment. Chin heir Chin Hsueh and his bodyguard Liu Amo want to find the assassin, stop the fighting, and rebuild the family fortune, but the ruthless killer is not their only enemy, for a young woman called A-lan is also bent on revenge. The inheritor of Utux’s beast spirit and unrealized final wish, she aims to wipe out the five clans. But she is also searching for a young woman called Wagtail who taught her the meaning of love during her exile but was caught by the Chin family. The assassinations are actually the work of powerful mimesists: White Ape and Black Antelope are using the Isle of Wan as a chessboard to play a fatal game, a grand final chapter before the ultimate destruction of the five clans.


    Having told of a revolution against the powerful, murders in foreign lands, family power struggles, a young woman’s vengeance, and a murder game for mimesists, Beastosis transitions to a new phase in which the real world, the source of the shadow world’s imitations, is facing the end of days. As a strange, fatal disease originating in South America sweeps across the globe, a young man named Taibang spends his time writing Beastosis, a story first told by his younger brother Luan. When Luan hanged himself, Taibang’s psychiatrist advised him to use writing as therapy. Then things start to change: as the disease mutates, people’s personalities alter and they shout strange words as they die. The disease attacks Taibang’s tribe, causing feverish children to babble things that only exist in his story. On his bathroom mirror, writing appears in his brother’s hand: FIND ME. The tribe’s shaman Ivivigi tells him that he is the key link between this world and the other, where Luan is calling out to him. The mirror writing and backward music are clues he uses to guide Taibang on a great journey.


    That journey ends on the icy surface of a frozen lake, a magic mirror that shows him two faces. One is a grown-up Luan – Lily in the shadow world – and the other is Luan at the age of eight, wreathed in green flame like a mythical malevolent spirit. It turns out that Luan, foreseeing the extinction of the human race, used suicide as a means of reaching the shadow world and had not only guided Taibang but had abducted Lily – and with her the power to restore life she had learned from Black Antelope. After Lily’s resurrection of Taibang left him with an incomplete soul, an evil spirit convinced her that a mirror could make him whole – but that mirror is actually a portal between the two worlds. By killing the shadow world Taibang and separating the real world Taibang from his flesh, his body would bestow new life on anyone who acquired. Lily does not want Taibang to die and fights with the evil Luan. The clouded leopard that vanished ten years ago after the revolution manifests and reveals it is the vessel for Taibang’s spirit.


    Meanwhile, Black Antelope’s motive for seeking out Lily’s assistance in his games with White Ape was to stem his string of losses and gain the upper hand to force White Ape to reveal himself. As children, Black Antelope and White Ape were inseparable friends under the tutelage of Red Phoenix, Midong’s most powerful mimesist and master of the phoenix spirit’s power of eternal life. A failed mimesis trial drove White Ape mad, and when Black Antelope was tasked with traveling on missions, the two gradually drifted apart. Over time, Black Antelope’s observations of Red Phoenix revealed his secret scheme: probing the extremes of mimetic power, he believed the ultimate mystery could be found in the real world, and although the access mirror was in his possession, among the many conditions for passage was the need for a special body. His worldwide search had turned up just one suitable candidate – White Ape – and so he infiltrated his soul into White Ape’s body and waited for the opportune moment. Sensing something amiss on the Isle of Wan, Black Antelope realizes that White Ape’s broken mind has been invaded, and he follows him back to Midong with the aim of battling the mimesist who has taken control of his body to reach the real world.


    The novel reaches a climax with a duel between brothers and a battle between mimesists across the real and illusory worlds, and Black Antelope and White Ape ultimately reunite to defeat Red Phoenix, losing their lives in the process. Evil Luan at last steps back and bids his elder brother farewell. Although young Taibang is unable to stop the extinction of humanity, the beast spirits will eternally preserve the souls of those in union with them, pointing the way to the next step in human evolution.


    The denouement is wistful but not sad. The ensemble cast may appear complicated, but it’s all in the service of a simple goal, to depict a boy unable to accept a loved one’s absence, who straddles real and imaginary worlds to turn death to life. Mimesists in the shadow world are like gods who pass the time playing games with human emotions and desires. This is an adventure on a magnificent scale: the unknowns of the shadow world are ripe for exploration, while the real world offers up the evolved species of the future. But at the same time, this is a story of rich emotions in which beast spirits born of the love and memories people have for the departed give the mimetic world its shape, where the dead are reborn, and where every character fights for the love they hold in their heart. The metaphor of the shadow world is the relationship between story and reality: story responds to and creates reality. And fiction, so long as it produces meaning and emotion in the reader, is eternal truth.

  • Book Report: The Suncake Pastry Shop
    Jan 30, 2024 / By Lin King


    Recent college graduate An-chun returns from Japan to Taiwan, having cut short his year-long trip of working short-term gigs abroad. He has had his heart broken by Emiko, the young woman set to inherit the hallowed wagashi (traditional Japanese pastry) shop, Han Shun Toh, where An-chun was working. Lovelorn, An-chun retreats to his mother’s home in Taichung without any plans for his future.


    This lack of purpose has been the plight of An-chun’s life. He was a middling student who never felt the drive to exert himself for the sake of achieving a goal, and chose to major in Japanese largely because he enjoyed reading manga. The only constant in his life is a blog that he started in college, “A Wanderer’s Diary”, where he shares his experiences working a variety of part-time jobs and maintains an enthusiastic readership that resonates with his sense of aimlessness.


    An-chun’s mother, tired of his idleness and indecision, forces him to go help out at Yang Tze Tang, the traditional Taiwanese pastry shop that has been passed down from An-chun’s great-grandfather to his great-uncle. The shop was once famous, but has fallen out of favor with modern Taiwanese tastes, which prefer Japanese or Western desserts and find the malt sugar of the traditional suncakes too sweet. It doesn’t help that Great-Uncle has a notoriously bad temper, which makes it difficult for Yang Tze Tang to retain staff.


    As An-chun adjusts to the grueling work at Yang Tze Tang, he reminisces over his time at Han Shun Toh, the Kyoto pastry shop that has an even longer history and even stricter traditions. Master Imanishi, owner of Han Shun Toh, initially rejected An-chun’s application outright because he isn’t Japanese, but Madame Imanishi was convinced that having Mandarin- and English-speaking An-chun would be an asset in tourist-heavy Kyoto. An-chun thus became Han Shun Toh’s first employee who wasn’t from a wagashi-making background, and the first such person to appear in the life of Emiko, the Imanishis’ only daughter.


    When they met, Emiko was struggling to earn her father’s approval as a wagashi master. Wagashi-making involves crafting original pastries for every season, and while Emiko’s creations are beautiful, Master Imanishi insisted that they were only imitations and lacked Emiko’s individuality. An-chun encouraged Emiko, suggesting that she try seeing Kyoto through the eyes of a tourist and discover new delights in the city that she took for granted. The two grew attached.


    Noticing this, the Han Shun Toh staff told An-chun that Emiko was engaged to the son of another wagashi-making family. When An-chun confessed his feelings to Emiko and asked her to travel with him, she declared that she was choosing Han Shun Toh and wagashi over him. Before he left Kyoto, she created a wagashi cake for him that communicated the poignancy of their relationship: she had found her own voice as a wagashi master.


    Now, in Taichung, An-chun tries to help revitalize Yang Tze Tang, urging Great-Uncle to accept an interview from a young reporter, Pin-hsin, at a popular magazine. With Pin-hsin’s encouragement, An-chun toils away to learn the craft, but still feels that he hasn’t earned the right to inherit the shop from Great-Uncle whenever others suggest it. His unworthiness seems confirmed when Great-Uncle agrees for Yang Tze Tang to compete in a pastry competition for the first time, but An-chun fails to win a prize.


    Meanwhile, An-chun has uncovered the origin story behind Great-Uncle’s temper. Great-Uncle had fallen in love with a girl from a wealthy family while he was a high school dropout learning his trade, but the whole family had disappeared without a word. One day, this long-lost love sends a postcard to Yang Tze Tang: she’d seen Great-Uncle in Pin-hsin’s magazine article. She now lives in Japan, and An-chun insists that Great-Uncle go look for her. With An-chun acting as interpreter and guide, Great-Uncle gets closure. They also visit Han Shun Toh, where Great-Uncle is impressed by the Imanishis’ commitment to their family business.


    Despite the attention garnered by Pin-hsin’s article, it becomes apparent that Yang Tze Tang can’t sustain itself in its current business model. When the question becomes whether to change or to close down, Great-Uncle chooses the latter. Han Shun Toh showed him that inheritance isn’t something that he should impose on An-chun without having laid the groundwork for An-chun’s success. After Yang Tze Tang announces its closing date, customers pour in for one last taste. An-chun leverages his blog to share stories about the store’s final days, immortalizing Yang Tze Tang in his own way. He starts a new journey to travel Taiwan, and is inspired to write about it in both Mandarin and Japanese.



    This is a cozy novel that, despite its romantic setting in ancient cities and pastry shops, addresses the malaise of youth and contemporary life. It grapples with the idea of the family business, both the rigid and limiting aspects of this burden as well as how it can truly be a life purpose that ensures the longevity of a culture’s traditions. Through this, it also contrasts young people who aren’t able to find a calling with young people who have a calling forced upon them, questioning whether people really get to “choose their destiny” in their work and life.


    The answer, according to the novel, seems to be that they don’t. Great-Uncle found his calling in traditional pastry, but not so much because he loved it as because he hated school and preferred helping his father. Emiko has always worked hard toward inheriting, but admits that she didn’t know whether she actually liked wagashi until she met An-chun. Pin-hsin the journalist tells An-chun that she also stumbled into the profession; she’d been in Sales but liked listening to her clients’ stories, and her supervisor switched her into Reporting. Everybody seems to commit to their professions through trial and error.


    An-chun’s aimlessness is the extreme case of this. There are plenty of clues throughout the book on what his strengths are: the Imanishi family tells him that, linguistically and culturally, he is an invaluable interpreter between Han Shun Toh and its diverse visitors; the other Yang Tze Tang staff tell him that he has helped bridge the generational and emotional gap between Great-Uncle and others; he writes a popular blog that brings together different people who feel lost; he falls in love with Pin-hsin, a journalist. However, nothing clicks for An-chun. It is only at the very end, while on another aimless journey, that he meets a child who talks to him about how important bridges are and finally has the revelation that his calling is to be a bridge between Taiwan and Japan, writing in both languages. There is a slight sense of anticlimax in the revelation given the earlier clues.


    But the book’s goal is not to shock the reader with twists, nor is it to wrench their hearts with true tragedy. Instead, it quietly addresses the disillusionment of youth without ever despairing in it, always maintaining a lightness of touch and an admiration for people going through their day-to-day lives. It is a “slice-of-life” story especially popular in Taiwan and Japan, comparable to Days At The Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa, Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa, and the popular series Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawagushi (minus the time travel element).


    Following the conventions of the slice-of-life genre, all characters have cautiously optimistic endings despite the blow of losing the beloved shop. An-chun fills the hole that Emiko left with his affection for Pin-hsin and finally finds his own ambition, Great-Uncle seems content in retirement, and all the other Yang Tze Tang staff successfully find suitable work. Though there is no dramatic climax of An-chun miraculously saving the family business that he knew almost nothing about at the beginning of the novel, the bittersweet realism is in a way more encouraging to a reader who, like An-chun, will continue searching for purpose and meaning after this particular story ends.

  • Diabolical Diva, or Married Woman: What Other Ending Could There Be for the Actress in Second Lead?
    Jan 30, 2024 / By Eslite Bookstore ∥ Translated by Mary King Bradley

    Joanne Deng has had two identities since 2015: actor and writer. After a number of short stories and essays, she attempted her first novel and immediately received recognition, winning the Taipei Literature Award. The title of this novel about “actresses” is Second Lead, the term used to refer to a supporting actress.


    From her auditions as a 20-year-old model to now, as she enters her forties, Joanne’s twenty years of experience in the performing arts have included roles in both film and theater, and directing as well as acting credits. As a creator, she believes her role is a passive one, and it is the ideas that seek her out. She wants to explore what she has seen and heard over the years, distilling these experiences in her writing.


    When can an actor, perpetually relegated to supporting roles, expect to become the lead?

    The protagonist of Second Lead, Claire Huang, is the second of two daughters. Launched into an unexpected acting career because of her resemblance to a Japanese actress, she starts out as a stand-in and then endures an endless wait for her chance to play the lead. “She has been playing a supporting role her entire life. When someone is acting, no matter how small the role, we have to help them create their personal backstory. Even if an actor is playing a supporting role in this particular story, there will be other stories in which she is the protagonist. The same is true for Claire Huang”. Whether she is on stage or in front of the camera, the audience sees Claire in these supporting roles, yet we also see how exciting her life script is as a woman. We see her persistence in seeking out an acting career, her emotional choices, how she faces up to the relationships in her family of origin.


    The story’s zoomed-out perspective is divided throughout the novel into leading and supporting roles. As she waits for her place on stage, Claire is fully aware that her sister has the lead role at home. An absent father and seemingly never-there mother have made Stella Huang caregiver as well as big sister to Claire. This relationship between the sisters, says Joanne, is a common situation in dysfunctional families. The elder sister takes on the role of the mother and becomes the caregiver. Even after the younger sibling has become an adult, she retains the habit of using her elder sister as a reference. Stella does more than simply take care of Claire; her love enables her sister to pursue a life untroubled by family relationships.


    The story cuts too close for comfort

    Joanne says that while she was writing Second Lead, she read almost every literary work there was about actors, then supplemented these sources with real-life examples. She concluded that there are only two types of actresses. One type becomes the eternally youthful, diabolical diva; the other gets married and becomes a wife. Apart from these two outcomes, can there be any other possibility that isn’t boring? “What are the good and bad endings for an actress? This, too, is a question I reflect on in my work.”


    To determine Claire’s ending in Second Lead, Joanne asked herself this question, but also turned to her own acting experiences. Writing with a crazed intensity for five months, she endured both physical and mental discomfort. The physical pain was caused by repetitive strain injuries and inflammation in her hands. As for the mental pain she felt, Joanne describes it as “a deeply overwhelming and terrifying state”. An actor retains 10 percent of their rationality because there are still things to do after stepping off the stage. A novelist is completely sucked into a state of writing down whatever happens to come to mind: “It seems as if in writing Second Lead I tried to revisit some of my decisions and then experienced new outcomes for these.” To recall a past that cannot be altered is sure to create some difficulties in addition to bringing a sense of change, especially when the story is one so close to the author.


    Director, actor, writer: Which identity has the lead role?

    Writer’s block happens in the places an author is most deeply connected to the work. A desire to explore human relationships led to research on the Family Constellations psychotherapy method, an answer for how to position Claire’s family members, and to many rewrites and revisions. In reflecting on the performing arts, the author had Claire participate in a Chinese reality television show, which involved sorting out improvised exchanges with the male actor, devising back-and-forth dialogue, and inserting the host’s questions as a counterbalance to these. Planning out the improvised dialogue section was a mirror for Joanne’s motivations. “That section was very much about sorting out my feelings on the performing arts. I couldn’t let the writer step too far into the leading role, though. I had to let the actor imagine the best way for that scene to be performed and put that in, and at the same time, I couldn’t let it become exposition.” The scene had to be carefully penned and revised many times to let readers approach its central idea more gradually.


    As she mastered her roles as actor and writer, she also developed greater self-awareness. “I have a weakness. I’m not very good at writing malicious people.” The definition of “malicious”, says Joanne, is “hurting people who are completely irrelevant to you”. Claire meets an actress who appears to be a manipulative schemer and the director named Mr. W who plays with others’ emotions. They aren’t actually bad people, however. They are simply interested in their own self-gratification, just as Claire is.


    Joanne humbly admits her weakness as a writer, but for a reader, her singular use of language invites an enjoyable contemplation of the smallest details. This is especially true of her “picturesque descriptions”. Joanne shares her method for creating these. “The way I write imagery is to describe the characters’ positions relative to each other and their postures. For example, in this conference room now, everyone is focused on different things. This is the part I like to describe. It allows the reader to enter into the setting right away and instantly feel the tension in the relationships.” Through Claire’s role in the book, we see a play and a performance in which there are not just the actors but other individuals, too, who are invisible to the audience and have the ability to control the actors.


    Five years isn’t enough; the distillation process can begin only after twenty years

    “If I wasn’t an actor, I would never have written this book.” The deepest impression that remains after reading Second Lead is the changes that occur in the protagonist throughout the course of her mental journey as an actor. Claire’s desire to act stems from fear – we see that waiting is the inevitable fate of an actor, and that the power structure in which actors find themselves can sometimes make them uncomfortable, but that it is also something they can do nothing about. In-depth analyses such as these peel back the surface beauty of the performing arts. Joanne is frank, saying that having some acting experience would not have been enough to write Second Lead. “If I had only been acting for five years, I couldn’t have written this book. I have been an actor for twenty years. I live in Taiwan. So, the book’s characters align with that timeframe and place.”

  • The Night Will Always End
    Jan 30, 2024 / By Kristin ∥ Translated by Jim Weldon

    The opening chapter resembles the start of a movie: the corpse of a pretty young girl lies in a peach orchard; whiteness, blood stains, blossom and the naked body create a strange beauty, accompanied by a growing sense of dread. With crisp and flowing imagistic writing, Chen Xue’s new crime fiction sets the scene for a serial murder investigation that spans many years. This becomes the core of a story that revolves around several key figures involved in this first murder, approached at the level of human nature, paying equal attention to the protagonists’ emotional lives and the narrative of events, each character experiencing a hard growing dogged by their own particular demons to become closed and lonely adults. Years pass, then fate brings these people back to where it all began to look for clarity about the cruel and poignant truth behind that bloody murder and in a search for a way out in their own lives.


    Of the threesome of friends back then, Ting Hsiao-Chuan, Sung Tung-Nien, and Chou Chia-Chun, one has died in the flower of her youth, leaving behind her first love who blames himself overmuch, and a best friend who is now universally known as “the murderer’s daughter”. Fourteen years have sped by, but nothing is over just because the case was so hastily closed. Sung Tung-Nien has chosen the life of a policeman, a zombie-like existence revolving entirely around his work. Chou Chia-Chun has undergone a total transformation to become industry-leading crime feature writer Li Hai-Yen, forever seeking answers in the tragedies of others, answers about tragedy, about grief and about survival.


    The Line Between Good and Evil

    A detective novel such as this, proceeding from an exploration of human nature, is bound to challenge its readers’ moral compasses. Right and wrong, good and evil, light and shade, life and death, beauty and ugliness, love and hate; everything exists as oppositions, but in Don’t Die Again, everyone involved has their own way of thinking and has been living in a gray zone of ambiguity for a long time; only by escaping the fetters of conventional views will they be able to dig down to the truth about their real feelings.


    In the case of Li Hai-Yen and her desire for clarity on all the unanswered questions in her life, for example her father and his supposed suicide out of guilt for his crimes, she finds the most practical approach to be voluntarily coming into contact with criminals and seeking to understand them, attempting to see the way the world works from their point of view. For Sung Tung-Nien, no amount of solving cases can work away the clot still lodged in his heart; nowhere can he find a path to his own redemption, and he is utterly consumed by a sense of powerlessness in the face of death. Also, one of the things “emotional realist” writing seeks to achieve, beyond just telling us who the murderer was, is an exploration of the motive for the crime and the presentation of a more complete truth. The choice is to explore causes and influences at the psychological level and to shine a light into the shadow cast by social and environmental factors.


    By and large, tragedy occurs not due to any single cause but as the result of a whole chain of misfortunes. Each person is always the protagonist of their own story in what actually happens, and each has their own version of the truth and their own way of responding to the world. By showing us the roads each of her core characters have come down, Chen Xue presents a thorough and well-ordered account of how the process of growing up and the environment that takes place in shape the particular qualities of a person’s character.


    Traumatic Memory

    In this book, Chen Xue once again explores the major theme of traumatic memory through the medium of genre fiction. Sung Tung-Nien and Li Hai-Yen have both suffered profoundly because of the darkness in their childhoods and the murder, the effects revealing themselves in various aspects of their characters such as their silence and closed-off natures. They struggle on alone, doing all they can to forget, but are constantly being pulled back into the past, their lives in a stagnant state that began when they were sixteen, flipping back and forth between repression and avoidance. However, with some good fortune, the workings of love and fate mean they are no longer compelled to suffer the pain of making a fresh start all alone. Li Hai-Yen cracks the icy seal that has kept Sung Tung-Nien’s heart frozen for so long, and Sung in his turn proves time and again through his actions that he is eager and determined to make a go of building a life together. It is a healing moment during which they can genuinely appreciate the truth of the maxim that “no man is an island”.


    Love Is Always Mightier Than Hate

    The meaning of this crime fiction’s title, Don’t Die Again, is made manifest in the way that love remains the only answer even where, during the course of these serial murders, terrible crimes have been committed and indelible marks left on the soul. Which is why, even after a separation that has lasted many years, Li Yen-Hai and Sun Tung-Nien each still plays the part of only possible savior for the other; never, from their childhood years onward, have they known the security of being loved and cared for, always driven and controlled by their emotional wishful thinking, yet how many times does it turn out to be the case that true love is not about what you do, but what you don’t do?


    In the gap between getting and not getting, we catch a glimpse of love’s power to destroy and simultaneous power to make good, the complexity that has been a theme Chen Xue repeatedly explores in her fiction. Li Hai-Yen comes to sense that love and suffering are also like this, amorphous and impervious to clear understanding. Sometimes when two people are on a journey together and have already been through so much, they will not fear for the future even if it promises only more hard trials and long nights. If all before has only been a world of darkness, then when a beam shines to cut through the night, be it never so weak or fleeting, then the light can defeat the dark and the travelers win through to a new life, testimony to the beauty and meaningfulness of sorrow.

  • Book Report: Spent Bullets
    Jan 30, 2024 / By Kevin Wang

    The hard-working geniuses of Spent Bullets ought to have ideal lives by the standards of any meritocracy. After attending the best schools in Taiwan, they gain employment in big tech, recognized around the world as the pinnacle of career prestige, but we do not see the rewards for their achievements. Instead, the book is focused on the grotesque contortions of psyches shaped by such hyper-competitive systems, where one’s capacity for suffering is among the most important measures of worth.


    Set mainly in Taipei and the San Francisco Bay Area through the past two decades, Terao Tetsuya’s debut work of fiction consists of nine linked stories (or chapters) with a recurring set of characters and converging plot lines. The stories switch between different first-person perspectives, and it is not until the eighth chapter that their identities are all confirmed. A re-reading of the book, which is under 250 pages, highlights the author’s ability to balance between delicately withheld information and stunning revelations.


    “Terao Tetsuya” is a pen name inspired by characters from two manga series: Over Drive’s Terao Kōichi, who supports the main characters in their ambitions to be cycling champions, and Kuroko Tetsuya from Kuroko’s Basketball, who is content to be a “shadow” that helps his teammates shine. This combination might hint at how Terao the author sees his role, having experienced proximity to genius as a student on the competitive programming team at NTU and as a Google software engineer.


    The black hole at the center of his book is Chieh-Heng, the prodigy who can show up three hours late to a programming competition and still win. His peers enjoy remarking on his comical aloofness and incomprehensible quirks: Chieh-Heng prefers his yogurt unsweetened and with a pinch of salt. He only keeps one song on his MP3 player, which he listens to on repeat. In the three chapters told from his perspective, we see Chieh-Heng’s own bafflement at the neurotypical expectations for socializing and emotional expression. Chieh-Heng never finds a sense of belonging, but it’s not for lack of trying. He bends himself and diminishes his individuality to try to fit in. Within the same week, he goes from an ex-gay support group to a meet-up for gay Taiwanese men in the Bay Area, but he fails to connect because of other people’s fear, misunderstanding, resentment, and obsessive adoration of him.


    Mostly, Chieh-Heng does what school and work expect of him. His most vital deviation from these rigid systems is his years-long sadomasochistic power exchange with classmate Wu Yi-Hsiang, a tormentor turned lover who offers a thin tether to reality. Their relationship establishes an early and continuing conflict. Wu Yi-Hsiang is fascinated by Chieh-Heng’s inscrutable intelligence and, with an anxious need to please, carefully tends to Chieh-Heng’s desire to be debased and made into nothing. But Wu Yi-Hsiang is also frustrated by Chieh-Heng’s apathy and seeming inability to communicate emotionally. As their sex grows increasingly meaningless, the sub is shown to hold the real power over the dom.


    None of these dynamics are stated directly, and a different reader may come up with different conclusions. While Chieh-Heng and Wu Yi-Hsiang are both first-person narrators, their stories are recounted from a cold distance. Such a detached style reflects how they have been trained to be calm under pressure from a young age. Their subtle dialogues are aligned with the “iceberg theory”, which leaves much unsaid while gesturing toward certain truths. The prose often turns to qualities of light and shadow. The California sun is “bright and vapid”, and in another instance, “orange like free detergent from the on-site laundry room”. In the heart of a desert city, “spotlights of innumerable colors” give form “for a few fleeting seconds to jets of water that have no business being here in the first place”. At times, the lens zooms in: zippers on a fly are interlocked tooth by tooth “like a greedy snake biting its own tail”, and a face is adorned with “a row of freckles like an inkjet printer ad”. Partly for this cinematic quality, Spent Bullets is now being adapted into a movie by Each Other Films, a company based in Taipei. The sense of uncertainty in the visual descriptions also highlights the theme of how impossible it is to truly understand another person.


    The steady, deadpan sentences also allow for unexpected strikes of humor. In the opening story, a boy can’t stop scratching at his itchy face even though he is about to get peed on by his classmates in a rite of humiliation: “Dead skin flaked off his skin as though he were a giant shiitake mushroom dispersing spores into the wind.” Later in the book, after saying their wedding vows in English at a notary in Vegas, a gay man declares in Chinese to his newlywed lesbian wife, “I don’t love you.” She replies, “Me too.”


    Much of this comedy is born out of the absurdity of striving. After visiting a classmate hospitalized for her suicide attempt, Wu Yi-Hsiang vows to make a lot of money as compensation for their lost youths and self-destructive habits. But despite all the six-figure salaries and stock options that come their way, there is no description of indulgence in luxury other than a pool with added sea salt to imitate the smell of vacation and a strip club in which “grease from one face is smeared onto another” via the dancer’s breasts. To save money, characters would rather drive than fly from San Francisco to Vegas. Instead of gourmet meals, they eat at Panda Express: “Chinese food as pictured in the American imagination”. The most pride a character ever feels is when they snag a free washing machine at the office, having stuck an “out of order” note on it the night before.


    Aside from the thrill of gun ownership and a heightened sense of social alienation, the characters behave no differently in America than they would in Taiwan. In Tsung-su’s short story “Want to Fly” (1976), an important text in the lineage of tongzhi literature, the Taiwanese protagonist goes to study in America, excited by its promises of liberation, only to find himself becoming an exploited laborer. Three-and-a-half decades later, the characters of Spent Bullets must have no illusions about how Silicon Valley would be a mere extension of the oppressive machinery that they’d endured all along.


    On their annual trip to Vegas to commemorate Chieh-Heng’s death, Wu Yi-Hsiang asks his friend Ming-Heng whether he’d choose the same path again, from grueling preparations for exams in high school to their miserable jobs. Ming-Heng says yes, acknowledging that nothing about their lives would change. This obstinacy is one of the book’s great puzzles. It seems that in the depths of despair, they have seen something about the world that they would not wish to unlearn. The book opens with a suicide, but it ends with another character’s choice to go on living: to bear patiently the burdens of their fate, but also to bear the memory of the beloved, like a bullet in a glass case that will never tarnish.

  • Love, Legends, and the Allure of Dreams: A Few Words on Zhang Guixing’s Novel Eyelids of Morning
    Jan 30, 2024 / By Tsui Shun-Hua ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    If one were to read only the parts of Eyelids of Morning that deal with the clashes between leftist guerillas and the soldiers of the British Empire, one might mistakenly believe it is yet another literary indictment of colonialism in Sarawak. However, in spite of the inclusion of myriad painstakingly researched details concerning the pomp and glorification of empire, the novel is far more than that. For all of the ink lavished on the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth the Second in the first chapter – the strict protocol of the ceremony right down to the composition of floral arrangements, the displays of exotic beasts, the rare gems adorning the royal crown, and the exact cape the queen wore over her priceless gown – all remain in service of a single dignified phrase uttered by the young queen: “I solemnly promise…” Promises, vows, and commitments are the lynchpins of the story of Eyelids of Morning – its mantras, if you will.


    The plot dances nimbly through a vast array of complexities. As the story unfolds, characters and predicaments multiply like the teeth of a crocodile, historical fact and fiction packed side-by-side. Zhang Guixing’s pen encompasses a multitude of characters, each with its own theater of interior life, from dignified queens to wandering ghosts, commanders of vast wealth to cunning crocodile hunters, youths brimming with aspiration to maidens yearning for love – even the dust-caked laborer by the side of the road is given his due. At least equally captivating are the numerous natural creatures of Sarawak, none more so than the crocodiles that lurk in the Gambir River, their eyes glittering with the dawn light. The dark waters beneath the seemingly calm surface of the river seethe with their dark and calculating currents.


    Tien Chin-Hung’s harmonica provides the occasion for the first stirring of love between him and lovely Fang Wu. Their courtship has a rocky start, but after many twists and turns, and much waiting, Chin-Hung wins the heart of his beloved. What should have been the beginning of marital bliss is cut short when Fang Wu dies in the jaws of giant crocodile attracted by the glittering seventy-two carat rose-red diamond in her hand. Again and again Chin-Hung describes the beauty and allure of the diamond to his grandson Chin-Shu, but in his heart, the true diamond is his lost love Fang Wu, and the land of Sarawak where he has laid down his roots. Even as his body ages, and his mind falters, Chin-Hung can never forget the lost diamond that was large enough to reflect the entire countryside within its facets.


    From childhood, Chin-Shu always swore to recover the diamond for his grandfather, an endeavor he seemed fated to pursue from birth, and which becomes the great mission of his youthful life. He gathers a team of treasure hunters, and the seven young men leave home to enter the depths of the primeval jungles of Sarawak. The bond that holds their party together is another form of commitment: each completely trusts the others with his life. In the jungles they fall prey to the cunning commander of a squad of leftist insurgents, and flee under fire from the British Imperial Army, time and again surviving only by the interventions of a mysterious red-haired woman named Lucy. Enigmatic as a puzzle, and strikingly similar in appearance to the once beautiful Fang Wu, Lucy appears and disappears without a trace. She is the only one who can replicate the call of the yellow crowned nightingale when needed (using her harmonica), and it is Lucy who ultimately saves the seven youths and their female companions, and, cutting open the belly of the giant crocodile, recovers the diamond for Chin-Shu. In the end, Chin-Shu owes the fulfillment of his great vow entirely to Lucy.


    In the second half of the novel, Chin-Shu has a bizarre dream: A giant red-haired woman carries Chin-Shu in her arms. As the dream progresses, Chin-Shu rapidly develops from an embryo into a young man, and then, just as rapidly, withers with age. As further dreamscapes unfold, time becomes even more compressed. Chin-Shu and the red-haired woman watch from a vantage point above the Earth in space, watching as 4.2 billion years of geological and ecological evolution unfolds before their eyes. Volcanoes spout blood-red magma, bubbles of life roil within the oceans, reptiles multiply, and a meteor impact ends the reign of the dinosaurs… great expanses of snow and icy peaks blankets the Earth, sunlight warms the face of a frozen planet, one day primates appear.… Chin-Chu takes it all in from on high, perhaps without ever realizing that the red-haired woman embracing him from behind is, in fact, that Lucy: the mother of all humanity.


    One after another, life forms enact the drama of birth and extinction within the theater of Chin-Shu’s dream. The sci-fi and fantasy overtones of this portion of the novel represent a stark stylistic departure, while also encompassing volumes of academic knowledge. The purpose of the fantastic alternate universe of the second half of the novel is perhaps found in the novel’s epilogue, “A Soaring Ball of Fire”. Therein, the author describes a legend about the polong[1] that intermingles elements of the developmental and colonial history of Borneo. He then goes on to state that he never intended to write an indictment of colonialism. Instead, Eyelids of Morning, whether judged by textual or narrative intent, adopts a greater critical distance, casting its gaze on humanity’s dependence on legend to explain both the beauty and pain of life, even clinging to the packaging of legend in its continuous act of dying. I think it is even possible to view the novel as a lengthy legend in its own right; a legend that mingles fact and fiction, encompassing undying love, terrifying monsters, unfeeling yet voluptuous fruits hanging in high trees, the wretched cannon fire of revolution, and the glory and dispossession of empire. In a world where all things traverse the distance from birth to death in an instant, perhaps only legends endure.


    [1] The polong is a mythical creature, somewhat like a cross between a harpy and a witch in appearance, which acts as an intermediary agent for the spells cast by native sorcerers in Borneo. – translator’s note.