Dec 22, 2021 / By Jenna Tang

    Lin Yi-Han’s is one of the titles that speaks directly to survival from sexual abuse, echoing with the global #MeToo Movement, hitting the Mandarin-Chinese speaking world with its compelling emotional narrative. Lin Yi-Han’s literary fiction ​Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise ​was originally published in 2017 by Guerrilla Publishing House in Taipei, Taiwan. The publication was during a heated political time when the South Korean government launched multiple trials fighting for the rights of women who suffered from ferocious sex crimes during the second World War. This, alongside the election of the first Taiwanese female president Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, fueled conversations about gender identities, diversity, and equality. Sexual assault became a haunted, yet impactful topic across Asia.​

    Fang Si-Chi, a thirteen-year-old girl born in a upper-class family from southern Taiwan develops an intimate friendship with her next-door neighbor, a girl of the same age named Liu Yi-Ting. They share everything together, both material and emotional. Living in a luxury apartment building, they spend most of their time reading literature from all parts of the world at their upstairs neighbor Hsu Yi-Wen’s place, who is well-read, yet mysterious with her seemingly happy marriage. ​When Li Kuo-Hua, a respected cram school Chinese literature teacher who lives in the same building, offers the girls free lessons at his place, Fang Si-Chi’s parents, thinking only of her advancement, gratefully accept. What her parents don’t know is that their expectations are exposing their daughter to a predator at the prime of her teenage sexual awakening.

    The novel is strange, surreal, and full of literary imagination. Written in a non-chronological form, the novel echoes John Milton’s “Paradise” sequence via the tripartite structure Paradise, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regained. The story is told through a close third person omniscient narrator with character-shifting perspectives. Throughout the book, readers experience each character’s mentality, the alternating perspectives take a closer look at each of the characters’ experience with desire. Much of the story follows the protagonist Fang Si-Chi, who suffers and survives from sexual abuse that lasts throughout her teenage years. The character-shifting perspectives take place among victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and a sense of unbelonging. The author does not avoid bringing readers into the abuser’s crooked mind to witness the darkness stemming from his Lolita fantasy and the continued violence it inspires. Through piercing insight into Fang Si-Chi’s mental state and her suffering, the novel reveals the chilling impact of sexual abuse, which intertwines with people’s willing blindness and systematic corruption from the Taiwanese society under desperate circumstances.

    Part autobiography, this novel is author Lin Yi-Han’s debut and final book, as she passed away in 2017, three months after publication. The novel found instant success when it was first released in Taiwan only months before the global #MeToo movement, instantly raising awareness of sexual violence, once an unspoken topic, and giving voice to survivors who had been repressed. It deeply explores Taiwanese female identity and introduces readers from all parts of the world to the culture of an island that houses unique voices with urgency to be heard.

    Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise is an unconventional gem that breaks both traditions of narrative form and taboos surrounding stories of abuse. The story features beautiful prose with dark and groundbreaking use of lines from Chinese literary classics. Narrative polyphony enables the reader to delve deeper into the lyrical tradition of Chinese in order to appreciate how Lin Yi-Han’s style incorporates dark language into emotional narratives that burst with elegance. Although the story depicts a fractured vulnerability, it is told with unsparing emotional honesty that never leans on cultural stereotypes. It not only gives voice to women and survivors but also offers a lens through which a global audience can reexamine sex education, desire, mental health, and belonging.



    Read more:
    - Lin Yi-Han: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=378
    - Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradisehttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=415

    Dec 22, 2021 / By Li Dong

    The Formosa Exchange takes the inhabitants of Taiwan to Cuba and those of Cuba to Taiwan in the year of 2024, just after the first half-Indigenous President of Taiwan was sworn in. What follows is neither chaos nor anarchy, but a surprising story of nationhood in a state of emergency, as if Lévis-Strauss walked into Lord of the Flies and took notes. Braiding history and fantasy into a sweeping speculative panorama, this book is an urgent inquiry into colonialism, imperialism, geopolitics, and ultimately, humanity. 

    The book begins in the year 2024 with the Havana-based installation artist Duvier del Dago Fernández as he anticipates going to Taiwan for an artist’s residency. As he prepares his trip, he remembers his residency at the Vermont Studio Center eleven years ago. Through the flashback of this residency, we get to know how Duvier came to art and the general situation of Cuba (i.e. lack of food supplies, the popularity of baseball, slow internet and the inadequacy of the internet coverage, free health care to all) and its conflicts with the US. As Duvier wakes up and plans to go to the airport for his flight to Taiwan, he notices something has changed. He finds himself in Taipei.

    A great exchange has taken place. Duvier is not alone in this. Almost the whole population of Cuba has been moved to Taiwan and that of Taiwan to Cuba. The Taiwanese girl Yuan-Yuan finds herself in Cuba with her two roommates. As a young girl, Yuanyuan acted in an R-rated film. Now fifteen years after that film, the director contacts the former actors, in order to gather them all to make a quasi-documentary of how he tries to find them for a sequel film, in the new setting of Cuba. Through Yuan-Yuan’s boyfriend, further details of this miraculous exchange between the Cubans and the Taiwanese surface. We come to understand that an inauguration of the new President Kuo of Taiwan took place just one day before this exchange of people and country. The sequel film accompanies this exchange and operates as a mirror of how the Taiwanese are adapting to their new environment in a state of emergency.

    The book then imagines the life of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, the author of Guantánamo Diary, after his decade-long imprisonment, as he comes back to Guantánamo for the Friendship Day event, in the hope of overwriting his memory of gruesome experiences. His friendship with the former guards Steve and James is recounted, as they reunite in the Taiwanese-occupied Cuba. Meanwhile, a companion chapter tells the tragic story of Paicu Yatauyungana of the Tsou tribe and her illegitimate son Tony. Paicu Yatauyungana, already marginalized due to her tribal origin, had Tony with a US Air Force officer, who promised to take them to the US but disappeared afterwards. Paicu Yatauyungana becomes a popular club singer of foreign songs. Her son Tony comes of age in an entirely confused fashion. It is revealed at the end of the story that this is part of a podcast by the new President Kuo, who is a mixed child of Han and Tsou origins. In the following chapter, we hear the story of President Kuo in the form of an interview. Kuo intends to be a different kind of president, who lives close to the realities of normal people and modern media and technology. In face of this sudden exchange, he puts out the idea of a “National Airbnb” to promote equality and trust with Cuba, and plans to help use Taiwan’s strength to improve Cuba’s infrastructure. He does not hesitate to lament the difficult situation of Taiwan, struggling between two super powers, namely, Mainland China and the US, as well as that of the Indigenous people in Taiwan and their misplacement and mistreatment. Then we come across a positive picture after the exchange and how the Taiwanese and Cubans thrive in their new life settings. But this exchange seems to come to an end soon, as Cuba declares its return after its own presidential election in 2028.

    The great exchange between Taiwan and Cuba triggers another greater exchange, albeit fictional, between China and the US. This new fictional exchange is narrated through the perspective of Hsu Tai-Sheng, a Taiwanese who gives up his PhD studies and comes back to Taiwan to lead a non-academic life, but now finds himself in the US again. He contemplates the impact of the double exchange, and insists that the “Taiwan Element” will persist, namely, continuing its course of a “dissident” in international geopolitics.

    The chapter “Ramón, Adolfo, Ernesto and ‘Che’”, recounts the story of Che Guevara in a magical realist manner. All the names “Che” used in his lifetime become real characters that often meet each other. Ramón comes to Taiwan for a business trip; Ramón meets Adolfo in Paris. What’s most interesting here is that “Che” wanted to turn Formosa into another Vietnam. In the following chapter, the book shifts back to Duvier’s last few days in Taipei before taking up his residency in the countryside. Along with a photographer and a novelist, Duvier contemplates what if Taiwan and Cuba became united states, and even sets out to collaborate on an installation project of visual narrative that takes another course of history beyond the death of Che Guevara. In this narrative titled “Wrong Histories”, “Che” died in Formosa along with a young guerilla fighter from the Tsou tribe. Meanwhile, Taiwanese and Cubans become dual citizens of each other’s countries.

    The book ends with the story of Iyas Zingrur, a Han, but who was given an indigenous name. After failing to complete his PhD in anthropology, he engages in causes to fight for the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, while translating Tristes Tropiques by Lévis-Strauss, which seems to be the guiding spirit of the whole book.

    The Formosa Exchange employs a wide range of language registers and styles, which mirror the extended scope of the book. The book lacks no romantic, funny, intellectual, trivial, intense moments to draw the readers in, despite its at times dizzyingly complex structures, underneath which we can sense a deeply moving homage to contemplation and human freedom. The book also uses various forms, literary or not, i.e. political manifestations, interviews, book reviews, film scripts, as well as multiple perspectives and the layering of facts and fiction to generate panoramic and palpable insights of nationhood and peoples, land and country, colonialism and imperialism. These insights provide possibilities, if not alternatives, in thinking about our current geopolitics as well as what it means to be a reflective human being in today’s world. The experiment of The Formosa Exchange is a daring political statement and a fun literary ride, as if Lévis-Strauss walked into Lord of the Flies and became a novelist of magical realism.



    Read more:
    - Huang Chong Kai: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=377
    - The Formosa Exchangehttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=414

  • Book Report: AURA OF THE SOUTH
    Dec 22, 2021 / By Jenna Tang

    Photography is a visual language that can capture cultural history, technological achievement, and the transformation of individuals and communities in a single moment. But what about the heart behind the lens? Chu He-Chih’s novel brings readers deeper into photographers’ perspective, their passion in capturing the fleeting instant – a facial expression, a moment of deep emotions, a religious ceremony – and depicts what pursuing and preserving these images means to a constantly changing world.

    Aura of the South tells the story around Teng Nan-Kuang (鄧南光), an iconic figure and pioneer of Taiwanese photography. Readers follow Nan-Kuang’s profound passion for photography through Taiwan’s turbulent transformation from Japanese colonization and the one-party Kuomintang dictatorship all the way to the present day. The story burgeons with the diversity of cultures on the island, especially portraits of the Hakka community, which withstood major challenges of cross-strait immigration, the transition from Qing dynastic rule to Japanese colonization, and the times after the second World War. It also reflects what languages and tongues mean during years of substantive cultural transformation: Hakka being a disappearing language since colonization, and what learning Japanese means to Hakka-Taiwanese community that lives in this in-between island. The story also shines light on significant contributors to photography in Taiwan, including Li Ming-Tiao (李鳴雕), Lang Ching-Shan (郎靜山), and Chang Tsai (張才), who contributed their artistic energy to memorialize Taiwan’s everlasting historical moments.

    The language of Aura of the South is gentle, classical, bursting with resonances of Hakka, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and the language of photography and passion. As readers are guided through the past, we watch the evolution of cameras and the intersection of the photographic gaze with the rapidly transforming world. Teng Nan-Kuang’s camera takes us back to the first sight of a world-traveling spaceship crossing through the heavens; his observations of the prosperity of Tokyo streets, of Taiwan, the island, of Hakka families, life and death, and the beauty of women’s faces, bodies, and emotions during that era. The perspective of the story mainly follows Teng Nan-Kuang, but also shifts to every photographer who stands out in this era, and does not shy away from bringing women’s voices, bringing photography, art, and a sense of wonder in witnessing the evolution of technology and the transition of the island’s fate.

    The novel is a winner of the prestigious 2021 Romain Rolland Literary Prize in Taiwan. Throughout the years, Chu He-Chih has won various literary awards with his historical fiction, investigating and exploring the history of Taiwan in deep nuances, bringing readers with immersion of everyday life in the island’s past and reflecting on our identity, living in a land full of various cultural influences that shifts our languages constantly. Aura of the South especially brings a story that amplifies disappearing languages, highlights the underrepresentation of art in Taiwanese society, and demonstrates how colonial history generates complex cultural intersections that still influence Taiwan to this day.

    Aura of the South is a novel that travels across the world and through time, shining a light on the artistic treasures we seldom glance at nowadays. It invokes a spirit of devotion and enthusiasm for art in an attempt to speak to the identity of islanders who inhabit in-between cultural space. Chu He-Chih’s narratives incorporate in-depth exploration of the Taiwanese history, especially for those of the underrepresented voices. Facing the danger of erasure under colonization, dictatorship, and lack of attention nowadays, the story gives photographers, women, and Hakka communities a space to be seen. It is one of the most compelling novels that emphasizes the reality of Taiwan across time and urges readers, time and time again, to try to remember the art that comes across history, while exploring ways to make them everlasting.



    Read more:
    - Chu Chih-Hsien: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=376
    - Light of the Southhttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=413

    Dec 22, 2021 / By Jim Weldon

    Hsu Chen-Fu’s first full-length work, Taming the Blue Sheep, is a tapestry woven of travelog with fiction embroidered with natural and human history, ethnography and reportage that shows us Tibet past and present, and lives lived on its high grasslands, both human and animal. A meditative traveler in the vein of Bruce Chatwin, Hsu’s prose narrative rises to become a wider inquiry into the relationship between Man and Nature even as it goes down deep into particular places and people, while his fiction brings alive the human detail of Tibetan lives under Chinese rule and the sweep of the tumult of change since 1949.

    Ostensibly a diary of the author’s several trips to the Tibetan Plateau in a quest to see the fabled snow leopard, we are soon introduced to the multiple narratives that will be employed in the form of an earlier traveler’s diary Hsu “translates” in excerpt. It is that of a fictional Japanese scholar of religion who comes to Tibet in the 1940s and stays to bear witness to “peaceful liberation”, the flight of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan uprising and Red Guard faction fighting on the streets of Lhasa. Hsu’s own journal begins with his journey to and residence at a research station where the search for the leopard reveals only tantalizing traces and second-hand accounts; here, the very high plateau itself perhaps features larger than the elusive big cat. We follow Hsu on visits to Lhasa and its wealth of monasteries and palaces, or idle time away waiting in Xining for the next excursion back to the grasslands. One such begins as an ill-fated car trip into the deepest parts of the plateau but ends with him spending the Tibetan New Year with the family of the shepherd who rescues him from breakdown in a snowstorm. He joins village youth returned from city jobs to scale a sacred mountain and light a New Year fire, then stays on to try his hand at shepherd’s work and investigate the cause of a mystery disease plaguing local flocks. We experience Hsu’s frustrations at the numerous official barriers a foreign traveler encounters off the tourist trail in Tibet and his delight and interest in those locals he does get to meet. Some of these latter feature as protagonists in their own fictional expansions from the main text, such as the ageing Tibetan opera master navigating personal loyalty to his art, faith and patrimony with performative gratitude to the modernizing state, as we share his first encounter with motion pictures both as audience and subject. Hsu’s journeys have met with numerous setbacks and end when he is expeled from his shepherd host’s village by the police; he decides it is time to return to Taiwan, yet to encounter a snow leopard in the wild. He does see a captive specimen in Xining Zoo on the morning of his flight home, underscoring our realization that it is always the quest that matters most.

    Hsu Chen-Fu is already well-known as an award-winning essayist and writer and the maturity of his craft is in evidence here, seamlessly blending the various narrative formats. The writing is tight with no longueurs, capable of expansive explication when the topic is natural science or subtle suggestion in the internal monologue of a fictional protagonist. The diversity of the content might easily descend into a mere ragbag of disparate parts but the strong authorial voice and sustained themes never leave this book feeling less than a whole. Hsu has a background in the sciences and his discussions of environmental themes benefit from this solid grounding but he is clearly also a gifted fiction writer and excels in that format too – his characters feel real and his descriptive writing is unforced. Better still, he is a good traveling companion not averse to humor when appropriate.

    The book includes an afterword by Wu Ming-Yi, author of The Man with the Compound Eyes, who we learn has known Hsu from the latter’s youth, always expecting great things from the younger writer. In Taming the Blue Sheep we see Wu’s judgement was not misplaced, this linked medley of fine writing addresses compelling themes for our times, bears witness to history, celebrates a culture, and takes us among people and places dear to the author’s heart in a style that keeps us constantly engaged.



    Read more:
    - Hsu Chen-Fu: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=375
    - Taming the Blue Sheepnhttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=412

  • Book Report: THE PIANO TUNER
    Dec 22, 2021 / By Sylvia Lichun Lin

    A musical genius turned piano tuner, a self-made wealthy businessman, and his young pianist wife are brought together by a piano that refuses to be tuned. Does the tuner fail at his job? Are the pianist’s ears playing a trick on her? Or is the piano off-key because the marriage is in trouble? When promises are broken and trust betrayed, where does one find a tuner to restore the timbre of life?

    The Piano Tuner, a novel by award-winning Taiwanese writer, Kuo Chiang-Sheng, is narrated by the eponymous title character, a one-time child prodigy whose potential earned him free music lessons and scorn from his peers and his own family. His father does not understand music and his classmates bully him – no macho boys play a sissy instrument like the piano. He would have given up if not for his persistent elementary school teacher, who finds him tutors and pays for his lessons. When one of her former students, now a renowned concert pianist returns to Taiwan for a brief stay, she arranges for the narrator to study with the pianist, who one day suggests a four-hand piano recital with the narrator. Growing up with inadequate love and few positive experiences, the narrator is overwhelmed by the attention, but an invitation extended too easily should never be taken seriously, he quickly learns. The pianist’s lover arrives in Taiwan and together they perform the four-hand piano piece. Feeling betrayed, the piano tuner leaves a deep scratch on the surface of the pianist’s expensive piano before storming out; he quits the lessons and turns to the more anonymous refuge of tuning pianos.

    Mr. Lin, the wealthy businessman, meets his wife, Emily, during a dinner with business associates at a restaurant that offers post-meal whisky tasting, accompanied by live, classical music. One of the dinner guests asks Emily to drink with them, a crass request that is out of line for a refined place, but which is finessed by the manager. And so they meet. Eventually they marry, and Lin begins to learn about classical music, attending concerts and later planning a recital for Emily. Then he helps her open a music studio that offers lessons. She later dies of cancer, leaving a roomful of pianos, and the Steinway he bought for her at home.                    

    Grief-stricken Lin must decide what to do with the pianos. In the meantime, the tuner continues to maintain the instruments in the studio and at Lin’s house. In one of his trips to the house, he reveals to Lin that Emily was never happy with how the Steinway sounded, to Lin’s great surprise. Why had she never told him? What else had she concealed from him? The tuner knows; she was in love with someone else, a former student. Being privy to the secret lets the narrator feel that he’s leveled the uneven relationship between Lin and him.

    The two men, with their disparate relationships with Emily, decide to form a quasi-partnership to sell second-hand pianos. In addition to those currently housed in the studio, they need more inventory, which takes them on a buying trip to New York. While in Manhattan, Emily’s former student/lover happens to show up at the same restaurant. Oblivious to the affair, Lin is happy to see someone who once knew his wife, while the narrator is put off by the younger man’s insincerity and forced pleasantries during the brief encounter. Without knowing it, the narrator is on the precipice of a downward spiral.

    As snow falls in New York, the narrator continues to slip into a mental state similar to the snow-blanketed world outside his hotel room. The two men drive to the outskirts of New York to visit a piano grave yard, where used pianos are either repaired, cannibalized, or turned into firewood to heat the massive space. In a semi-delirious state, the narrator picks up a hammer and smashes a piano waiting to be restored, a display of his mental decline. Lin has second thoughts about the joint venture and decides to spend time with his son in the city, sending the piano tuner home alone. Another promise broken.

    The novel ends with the narrator traveling to Moscow to visit the former residence of Sviatoslav Richter, a Soviet pianist whose 18th piano sonata informs many of the relationships in the second half of the novel, and whose life sheds lights on the narrator, a piano tuner, and a metaphorical broken piano.

    The Piano Tuner is an exploration of unfulfilled dreams and unkept pledges and their consequences, as well as a meditation on life, love, and friendship. Kuo writes in unadorned and yet elegant Chinese, which is beautifully rendered by an award-winning translating team.



    Read more:
    - Kuo Chiang-Sheng: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=374
    - The Piano Tunerhttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=411

  • Book Report: BECOMING BUNUN
    Dec 22, 2021 / By May Huang

    Becoming Bunun is a coming-of-age story by acclaimed Taiwanese novelist Kan Yao-Ming, widely regarded as the pioneer of neo-nativist Taiwanese literature. Set in the aftermath of World War II, Becoming Bunun revolves around Halmut, a young man from the Bunun tribe, whose dream of playing professional baseball with his childhood friend Hainunan is dashed when the latter is killed during an American air raid (the two boys are more than just friends, though their forbidden and unrequited love ends in tragedy). The book is heavily inspired by the Sancha Mountain Incident of September 1945 – during which an American bomber carrying newly-liberated prisoners of war crashed into Hualien County. In Kan’s fictional retelling of the incident, Halmut is part of the rescue team that searches the mountain for survivors. While doing so, he finds an American pilot alive but hesitates to save his life, still grieving Hainunan’s death at the hands of American troops. The moral quandary Halmut confronts and ultimately resolves is part of what makes Becoming Bunun a classic bildungsroman, a journey of self-discovery and personal reckoning.  

    The novel takes its name from the Bunun language (the original title “minBunun” means “to be a Bunun”), which feels particularly fitting as Kan draws from Bunun heritage and culture throughout. The folklore and rich, mythological imagery Kan weaves throughout the story inform our reading of the text, deepening the novel’s exploration of man’s relationship with nature and Indigenous beliefs. Kan is a writer known for his historical fiction, and Becoming Bunun is no exception; throughout the book, he turns his attention to Taiwanese history and the real lived experiences of Taiwanese people, outlining the local tensions during and after the Japanese occupation, the challenges of healing from post-war trauma, and the barriers queer folks faced during a time when same-sex relationships were stigmatized – Halmut and Hainuan’s short-lived and unreconciled relationship is tender though ill-fated, extending the magnitude of Halmut’s grief.

    By creating space to explore Taiwanese history and its kaleidoscope of different identities, Becoming Bunun also amplifies the stories of Taiwanese residents during and after World War II, giving voice to narratives that may have been sidelined in the global theater of operations. Every character, no matter how minor, is brought to life with vivid detail – from the  powerful hundred-step snake river, personified through Kan’s imagination in a way that makes Taiwan’s topology itself a core part of the story; to the sambar deer he encounters at a cathartic moment towards the end of the novel, which he believes to be the “Deer King” from Bunun legend; to the clouded leopard he sees as himself in a dream, an instance of the importance that Bunun culture places on divining the future through dream interpretation.  

    Becoming Bunun is many stories within a single novel, as Kan brings different genres (historical fiction, bildungsroman, poetry, elegy) and even languages (Bunun, Chinese, Japanese, English) together to tell a broader story about love, mourning, and self-understanding. Suffused with suspense, heartbreak, and loss, Becoming Bunun is a window into a lesser-known chapter of Taiwanese history, intertwined as it is with deadliest and most destructive war to ever take place. Rooted in Bunun culture yet universal in its exploration of grief and desire, Becoming Bunun is a timely reminder that diverse traditions and beliefs are worth protecting; and a powerful testament to the way storytelling allows the people we care about to live on in personal and collective memory. 



    Read more:
    - Kan Yao-Ming: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=49
    - Becoming Bunun: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=410

  • A TRIP TO THE ASYLUM’s Cycle of Trauma
    Dec 21, 2021 / By Jean Chen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    (This article is a condensed version of one originally published at Fountain.org.tw.: https://www.fountain.org.tw/tag/mind/article/a-trip-to-asylum-by-pam-pam-liu)

    A Trip to the Asylum is the first full-length graphic novel from artist Pam Pam. It is her attempt to explain reality through fictional characters. The idea for the story had been percolating in her mind over ten years of working on original comics, during which she built up her confidence that she could do this story justice in graphic novel form. The seed of the graphic novel consisted of a single sentence: “The whole world is your asylum.”

    Pam Pam relates, “Sometimes I feel that all of the so-called ‘normal’ people who get societal recognition are actually far more messed-up than those who get labeled with a diagnosis, to the point that the ‘normal’ people are actually the source of other peoples’ mental illnesses.” Told in 15 chapters/336 pages, the story begins when a little girl’s uncle enters a psychiatric care facility for treatment, and ends when he finally leaves. The man who has undergone “treatment” at the facility emerges as someone who still looks like her uncle, but also doesn’t seem like her uncle anymore.



    During his “trip to the asylum” the uncle encounters a diverse cast of characters. Number One has an overblown self-image, Little Yu is kind and definitely crazy, and long-haired, sweetly charming Ting-ting is hiding a big secret, but in each of them we also recognize ourselves, each wound-laden heart wrapped in layer upon layer of memory. As expected, Pam Pam skillfully laces these harsh realities with offbeat humor, helping readers understand the ways we are all shaped by childhood trauma.

    A reading of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma provided both the needed knowledge-base and motivation to complete this graphic novel. The little girl witnesses the way her uncle turned violent whenever things didn’t go his way. But does that mean she will repeat the same pattern of violence in some future moment when she is pushed to the breaking point? Our psychological traumas are remembered in the body and childhood wounds remain embedded in the psyche.



    At what point does the heart turn cold? When does it become overburdened with the scars it bears? A Trip to the Asylum dispenses with preaching, instead patiently unveiling the inner world of the so-called “insane” through humorous stories and wry observations of their inter-personal interactions. Along the way we are forced to question, are those who appear normal truly normal? In a world where violence begets violence, none of us can avoid trauma, nor can we avoid passing that hurt on to others. So, in the end, what standard is there to judge who is sane, and who is not?



    Read more:
    - Pam Pam Liu: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=344
    - A Trip to the Asylum: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=389

  • “Writing our Wounds” in HOSTEL OF LOST FUNCTION
    Dec 21, 2021 / By Gami ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    In April of 2016, I lost my mother quite unexpectedly. Immediately, I understood that heartache is not just some abstract description. It can take on many forms: a physiological pain, a violent headache, nausea, vertigo, a knot of tension in the chest. Even when I thought I was too exhausted to cry any more, the tears would start flowing again.

    Because of this calamity, my older brother and I moved out of the house we had shared with our mother, and into a rooftop addition in Taipei. After we settled in, life and work returned to normal, though from time to time I would be seized by a kind of panic. I wondered exactly what this feeling was. Perhaps most of you have had the experience of staying in a dormitory or youth hostel. You might thoroughly enjoy the experience, but the moment you return home a knot of tension releases. The tension and panic I felt was like that – like always living away from home. When I realized this, the phrase “Hostel of Lost Function” suddenly appeared in my mind.



    “That place where you stayed for so long – where you thought you would live forever – that is the Hostel of Lost Function.”

    At first I felt uneasy and confused. “Hostel of Lost Function” sounds so negative. How could I associate it with someone I loved so deeply? Though I continued to work on a number of other creative projects, Hostel of Lost Function stayed lodged in my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In 2018, while studying illustration in London, I decided to start working on the story. The pictures become my language for re-establishing communication with the outside world. With pencil and engravings I recorded the feelings that my stilted tongue had never been able to speak. After reading the storyboards for Hostel of Lost Function at a mid-term evaluation, some of my classmates began to cry, and when I saw their tears, I cried as well. I felt understood. I realized that writing our wounds has the power to heal others as well.

    Later, in 2021, as I sat in a meeting, listening as the publication of the book was discussed, my thoughts drifted away to the mountaintop where my mother’s ashes are buried beneath a tree. Now, I could finally take the book to the mountaintop and read it to her. “You see? You’re haven’t disappeared. You will always be here in this story.” Now, I can finally tell everyone, “This is the house I’ve been building for so long. It’s called Hostel of Lost Function.” There’s nothing complex about the structure, but my feelings for it are complicated. I’m afraid certain parts were not well made, and won’t hold as much love that they might have. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to build it as it really ought to be, because it is so much better than anything that can be conveyed by words and pictures. I’m afraid people will be disappointed (or perhaps I am the one who will always be most disappointed). But I have built it. Hostel of Lost Function exists for all to see.

    “This strung-together form with no means to express, like a heart with no fixed residence, always living outside and unable to sleep, can finally have a bit of rest.” This is what the Hostel of Lost Function says to me.



    Read more:
    - Gami: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=373
    - Hostel of Lost Function: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=388

  • Where Fantasy Meets Reality: Artist Ticker on Sketching a Supernatural History of Taiwan
    Dec 21, 2021 / By Ticker ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Before I began working on this graphic novel about Taiwan’s supernatural creatures I knew as little about the subject as most readers. My knowledge was limited to the few ghost stories that everyone has heard. As I delved deeper, I came to understand that these supernatural creatures are intimately connected to our people and our land. They are reflections of the complexities of human life. Sometimes they act as warnings. Sometimes they represent forces in society or the natural world. More importantly, these creatures are not bound by ordinary human ethics. Wild and mysterious by turns, I am deeply drawn to these entities at the hinterlands of reality that embody so many imaginative possibilities.

    “The Servant Girl’s Cat” was the first story I completed. In it, a cat who died defending her master’s virtue is reborn as a supernatural creature. When she witnesses Hsiao Chun, a girl working as a maid, being assaulted she begins to realize that though the world may never change, she must still do what she can to avenge the honor of these mistreated women.



    Iakoo was once a little girl who died of abuse at the hands of her sister-in-law. In death, she becomes a god who protects unwed boys and girls. In the graphic novel, Iakoo appears as a little girl who loves to laugh and play, the very joys she was denied in her short, tragic life. This interpretation mirrors the situation of Kuei-mei, a young girl who seeks Iakoo’s help.

    The depiction of women in these stories contrasts strongly with the unfettered nature of the supernatural creatures. Whether it is the suffering Kuei-mei endures due to misogyny, or Hsiao Chun’s attempts at self-determination, or Su’s pursuit of freedom, all of these characters cling to what hope they can muster, despite the cruel hand fate has dealt them. Aside from the stories of these supernatural entities, this is what I most wanted to share with my readers – a window onto earlier times. There’s Wang Ching, who sells roasted wheat mush to support his family. There’s Inspector Li, caught between his personal and professional obligations. There’s Ming-tu, pining for his older brother.



    Through the vicissitudes of life, all of them are seeking some form of peace and contentment. Those times may have passed, but the striving and longing of these characters will elicit familiar resonances for contemporary readers. If even one of these stories or characters, or even one image, stays lodged in the readers mind, impossible to forget, then it was all worth it. This is my small hope now that these stories are complete.



    Read more:
    - Ticker: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=372
    The Sister of the Bamboo Stool and Other Tales of the Supernatural: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=387