• CASEY AND HIS GAS SHOP: A Gasman’s Daughter Tears Off the Mask to Expose the Cruelty in the Saying “Jobs Are Neither Noble Nor Humble”
    Sep 20, 2022 / By Hong Chee Shan ∥ Translated by Dong Li

    Originally published at The News Lens: https://www.thenewslens.com/article/158988


    The Guerrilla Female Perspective: Breaking Through the Monotone of the Masculine Narrative

    Casey and His Gas Shop is based on the story of three gas shop owners: Casey, a newcomer to the city of Yilan; Wang Zi-Jian (“Prince”), whose business is going downhill; and Lin Tu-Tou (“Peanut”), whose business is booming. The book tells of their conflicts and the local customs of Yilan. One expects a story featuring three male characters to be masculine, but author Hao Ni-Er does not stop there. She expands the narrative to include the perspectives of Prince’s wife Yeh Shu-Ching and daughter Wang An-Ni; Peanut’s wife Lin Su-Yu; Grandma Fang, a customer, her son Fang Hsiang-Chun, daughter-in-law Hsiao Mei, and granddaughter Fang Huai-Hisang.

    Amid this cacophony, the female perspective stands out: Wang An-Ni’s teenage adventures, Yeh Shu-Ching’s housekeeping, Lin Su-Yu’s quiet observations, Hsiao Mei’s struggles with her desire and infidelity, Fang Huai-Hsiang’s bewilderment at Casey’s pursuits. These scenes come alive in Hao Ni-Er’s narrative to paint a holistic picture of the ecology of each company. For instance, here’s a scene in which Yeh Shu-Ching urges her husband Prince to collect the money from their customer:

    “Yeh Shu-Ching told him over and over again not to take credit. Halfway there, he received a call. It was her repeating: ‘Get a deposit at least.’” But at the doorstep of the less privileged, Prince cannot hide his soft spot: “Though embarrassing, a gas bottle that is worth a few hundred dollars would allow these people to last a few more weeks, to have hot water and warm meals, as if it would prevent their life from tilting too fast.” Thus, he assumes his wife’s reprimand. Seeing that she is about to scold him, he quickly thinks up some excuse, but does not expect that “she just picked up two bags of fruits and walked away. As she turned around and saw that Prince had not stepped out of the car, she asked, ‘Everything alright? Could you give me a hand?’ He says of course and helps her carry the vegetables and fruits.” Unannounced, a family drama ends. It is touching to read the couple’s tacit understanding of each other.

    Instead of accepting a typically masculine portrayal of women as being focused entirely on petty profits, the novel offers a realistic and unpretentious restoration of familial interactions, making the otherwise stiff and sweaty gas shops wonderfully human. This is what makes Hao Ni-Er’s novel so powerful. The novel goes at length to set up the story, but ends in a precise and beautiful way, reminding us of all the compromises and helplessness in life. These last scenes give us a truthful close-up of the locals’ daily lives.


    Jobs Are Neither Noble Nor Humble: Grinding Matters for the Workers

    In her afterword, Hao makes clear that “I was raised not to believe ‘jobs are neither noble nor humble’.” As the daughter of a gas worker, she wants to describe in writing the cruelties of that particular world. This makes Casey and His Gas Shop special in that it pierces the facade of appearance. Wang An-Ni, the daughter of Prince, has to face all kinds of gossip and suffers great humiliation because of her father’s profession. “Good grief! He works so hard to earn a living, but look at his daughter!” However, Hao Ni-Er deliberately allows her character to have the resilience of resisting this flawed and stereotypical narrative: “If I were a daughter of a civil servant, would anyone say such things? What if I were a banker’s child? What’s wrong with a gas worker?” On reading this, readers might loosen up and feel sympathetic toward the cruelties behind a phrase like “jobs are neither noble nor humble”.

    Although workers need more respect, they often remain silent. In fact, at the very beginning of the novel, Hao Ni-Er already provides such an insight – Prince thought that his daughter’s rebellion is “because of the gas smell all over me?” To everybody’s surprise, the daughter rebelled only because her father’s name sounds like the name of a brand of instant noodles, and she worried that he would be ridiculed by her schoolmates. The smell of natural gas permeates the novel; before he delivers gas bottles to restaurants in Dongshan, Peanut always bathes, noting: “The boss detests the smell of gas, so I cannot go without a shower.” When Casey stands before someone he likes, he has nowhere to hide the smell: “Casey certainly knows what he smells like. The gas workers, no matter how thoroughly they wash themselves, have nowhere to hide the smell, when the others wrinkle their nose.” That odor, a constant, baleful presence in Casey and His Gas Shop, is a reminder to the novelist herself as well as to the readers that matter how much you want to maintain a peaceful surface, it is better to admit that some smells cannot be washed away.

    This is what makes Casey and His Gas Shop so special: it is honest, straightforward, and unapologetic. Hao speaks for the workers, not just to harvest popular acclaim, but also to make us reflect on whether we are being hypocritical when we blurt out “I understand” and “I know” in response to every observation, and whether we overlook the importance of honesty and sincerity. “Sincerity is the most moving sound,” the author writes; this is precisely what Hao Ni-Er’s Casey and His Gas Shop has taught me.   

  • The Characters of Her Novel Beating in Her Mind for Thirty Years, Ku Yu-Ling Exhausts the Field of Her Life to Capture the Unspeakable: An Interview with Ku Yu-Ling on Her Novel MARGINS OF TIME
    Sep 20, 2022 / By Hao Ni-Er ∥ Translated by Dong Li

    Originally published at Openbook: https://www.openbook.org.tw/article/p-66274


    Known for her literary reportage, Ku Yu-Ling has recently released Margins of Time, her first novel. The book reads like a series of memory exercises, describing Taiwan’s wounds and scars, interpersonal bonds and burdens, as well as individual pains and sorrows.

    Unable to forget our grief, we live more like a collective nation than a generation.

    The novel is valuable for more than Ku’s ability to stick a needle where it really bleeds. Her memory exercises also work like daily conversations that take place between the moments of meals, movements, and quiet looks. Following a plot as plain as water, the readers realize that strength and vulnerability co-exist – those lives shattered by explosive events that happened decades ago have not died, instead, they strike on the here and now quietly like aftershocks. 


    Fiction Fills an Unknown Past.

    Speaking about her creative process while writing Margins of Time, Ku Yu-Ling said she deployed results from a life of field research, because “fiction, in fact, does not reveal what is already known, instead, the characters often go to places that are unfamiliar to us. Quite often, I had to stop and think where they were taking me.” This is all new to Ku Yu-Ling. She said with a sweet smile: “I call the time spent on the novel ‘sweet hours’. Every day, I looked forward to an unknown journey.”

    These “sweet hours”, however, took thirty years to reach fruition. The phrase “field of her life” is, in a larger sense, no exaggeration. Many characters in Margins of Time took shape when Ku graduated high school; one of the protagonists, Chang Chin-Shan, is an example.

    “This character was modeled after my high school geography teacher. In his youth, he endured Japanese rule. When people in my generation read history, it told us that World War Two is all about fighting against the Japanese. That conflict seemed to define everything. But the fact is that Taiwan participated in the militaristic expansion at the time. This part was not included in the materials we had read; everybody was just happy to celebrate the victory. I did not have the opportunity to read other versions beyond the history of fighting against the Japanese until after the lifting of martial law.”

    Ku was so shocked by her findings that even today she can only use adjectives like “explosive” to describe the “other world” that she saw after the lifting of the martial law.

    “I started to wonder what the adults I knew, and what my geography teacher, or even my father had actually gone through,” Ku Yu-Ling said. Her reflection came to a shattering conclusion: “I knew nothing about their past.”

    Ku said when she was younger, she thought about adults only in terms of “the annoying and the not-so-annoying”. The onset of a new era brought all kinds of materials to light. What she “desperately wanted to know” was not just the information in history books, but the stories of individual lives. “But then you realize there is no way of knowing people simply through your intelligence, you are sometimes constrained by the framework of the era. Of course, I later also benefited from the era.”

    Ku Yu-Ling recalled reading classified historical records from the White Terror together with someone who had been a political prisoner then. “We read left-wing political economy and Marx. For a child who grew up with anti-communist sentiments, a whole new world opened up, the adults around us became three-dimensional, and I began to imagine more. A novel can contain that kind of imagination.”


    A Small Step Toward Reconciliation, a Big Step Toward Understanding

    All the wounds and scars in Margins of Time, no matter how big or small, are caused by the aftershocks of politics and class structure. Therefore, what most concerns Ku in the midst of these aftershocks is how these people lived their lives.

    In the process of reading the book, readers may be easily drawn in by the propelling plotlines of war and politics. But Ku also spends an equal amount of energy laying out pressing issues like housing, labor, and environmental protection. “If we are able to understand the constraints these people felt, the choices they made, and the consequences they had to bear, then we should also reflect on our own life.”

    More than thirty years have passed since the lifting of martial law. The children born then are now old enough to start their own families. Ku Yu-Ling’s desire to write awakened those three decades ago. The characters beat in her mind day and night. And she hopes to launch a new dialogue with readers in their twenties and thirties.

    “This generation is very different from ours. They have been to all kinds of memorials and museums since their youth. My greatest fear is that after they finish reading the long historical records, they would say: ‘It is good that it is over. It is good that it is different now.’ What I fear most is the perfect tense of democracy, not knowing its inadequacy, not having the strength to resist.”

    In this way, Margins of Time remains unfinished. The curiosity, patience, and suspicion of the characters, though different in their own ways, ultimately reflect an era. Some cannot find the right words at the moment when something happens; time then passes on like water, and the pain becomes an unspeakable wound, a fog in the mind. I hear some are eager for reconciliation, as if the fog could be controlled or dispersed completely.

    “I do not write to reconcile, far from it,” said Ku Yu-Ling. She meant that she writes to understand.

    Now she understands that “sometimes, the pain of individuals cannot be relieved or reversed by other forces, but demands the whole social structure to relax in order for them to find relief.” Therefore, writing is a must, no matter how far the so-called “truth” as we understand it departs from reality. Ku Yu-Ling is willing to let her inquiry and her work become a part of the “collective” forces to that end.

  • Lai Hsiang-Yin’s STILL LIFE IN WHITE: A Three-Part Book on the White Terror, Collective Trauma, and the Enforcement of Silence
    Sep 20, 2022 / By Hong Chee Shan ∥ Translated by Kevin Wang

    Originally published at The News Lens: https://www.thenewslens.com/article/165931



    Finding Deeper Nuance in the Rewriting of “Mr. Soo”

    According to interviews with Lai Hsiang-Yin, “Mr. Soo” took on earlier forms in “Fathers” from her book Afterwards and her 2016 story “Rain Tree”. In other words, she has been writing and revising “Mr. Soo” since 2012. The version of “Mr. Soo” that appeared in Springhill Literati collection additionally emphasize on how the power of the state apparatus, as seen by Mr. Soo during his military career, can transform a person. The story opens with a mention of Chiang Kai-shek’s Annex to the Principle of People’s Livelihood on Matters of Education and Leisure, which guided national artistic production under the banner of anti-communism since the 1950s. Still Life in White expands on its description of Mr. Soo’s life is like as a school teacher after his military service and how he manages to dodge the stray bullets of the White Terror while working in the education system.

    In the chapter titled “1987: Zoo”, Mr. Soo’s observations of an elephant in the Taipei Zoo are followed by reflections on the whitewashing of information under martial law. He speaks to Mrs. Hung, a teacher whose husband was arrested after the Kaohsiung Incident. Since then, the close watch of the state has washed away the peak of Teacher Hung’s youth. Mr. Soo reads the newspaper everyday but has never seen the name of Teacher Hung’s husband in its pages: “Such incidents seem to spread out like waves. If implicated, even the most inconspicuous person will be carried away.”

    In the allegory of Mr. Soo’s life, insignificant figures either escape the machinery of the state or get caught in its beak and talons. For example, the young and beautiful girl Chun-He becomes a military training instructor after the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis. And one of Mr. Soo’s old classmates from the teacher’s college is driven insane and forced into an asylum by the Party-state. Another friend who loves photography captures the image of the burning police station during the Zhongli Incident. Mr. Soo himself, while seemingly carefree, takes great pains to evade the sight lines of the state, though he does everything he can to care for the less fortunate. As an insignificant figure under martial law, he can only watch the times unfold while remaining hidden, and wait for the flood of history to flush away, which is no easy matter.


    A Song of Many Languages: Miss Cassie

    After the short story “Bun-hui” comes “Miss Cassie”, a novella of well over a hundred pages. This story describes the lives of overseas Taiwanese in Europe, which are less commonly discussed than Taiwanese townsfolk in Japan and the United States. Miss Cassie was born with a good voice and can sing in Taiwanese, Mandarin, English, and French. Lai Hsiang-Yin has carefully crafted song lyrics to embed into the story, deepening our reading experience through meticulously wrought details that highlight the writer’s superb literary techniques and narrative ability.

    Miss Cassie’s life follows the 1960s slogan: “Come, come, come to NTU; go, go, go to America.” But wandering far from her homeland through the 1970s also makes her feel like a “rootless orchid”. She experiences the gloom of political changes in the 1980s, a new era beginning with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and even the turn of the millennium, when tensions between post-1949 Chinese immigrants and local people evolve into a showdown between the Blue and Green Parties. The story, which spans fifty years, is more than just a “mixing of fragmented historical material and individual memory” as Lai Hsiang-Yin states in the afterword (titled “White, Do You See It?”). It is in the depiction of characters who pass superficially as indifferent shadows that the author demonstrates her narrative ability.

    Downplaying the White Terror is one way in which characters express their fear. Witnessing student strikes in Paris, “Miss Cassie thought long and hard about freedom and it seemed to her to be a very complicated business.” Her teacher Yin Hai-kuang once said they lived in “an age without ideology, in which everything floated unattached; should one or two things happen to come to prominence, they’d soon be quietly wiped away.” Miss Cassie, who flees from Taiwan to France, eventually chooses to go to Berlin: “She does not want to live her days jumpy and on edge. She wants to go to an unfamiliar place and thinks vaguely of Berlin as a forgotten cave, an inaccessible city that the hand of the Party-state would not be interested in reaching.” But in the end, she was there at the wrong time. The Party-state can extend its claws and teeth even past the walls of liberal West Berlin. During a trip back to Taiwan, she is stopped at the airport and then let go. A few months later, the death of Chen Wen-chen sends all overseas Taiwanese people a brutal message.


    What is the Color of White?

    Let us go back to the White Terror – the unbounded reach of this white, a color of collective trauma and silence. In Still Life in White, characters who brush against the White Terror must be first to escape the site of catastrophe before being wiped away. Even after martial law is lifted, Miss Cassie still seems stuck in the old times: “Upon each return to Taiwan, she felt that there were eyes watching her from behind.” White is the color of wordless public executions. In her afterword, Lai Hsiang-Yin speaks on the process of “painting white with white” by adding brushstrokes to dyed cloth, producing images which can only be discerned through close attention. Someone must be able to see it. Someone must remember it. Only then will the white portrait see the light of day again.

    White is a color we must learn to discern.

  • A Spotlight on Taiwanese Artists at the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition
    Sep 15, 2022 / By Higo Wu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Although the Illustrators Exhibition at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair was launched in 1967, Taiwan didn’t have its first featured illustrator until 1989. The timing closely followed the lifting of martial law in 1987 when after decades of political and educational repression, Taiwan gradually began to open up and make progress towards reform. As politics opened up, all kinds of creative spheres now had freedom of thought and expression which let them flourish and become more diverse. Then as education opened up, there was a shift in the Taiwanese perspective on childhood and what it meant to produce books for young readers, so the publishing industry began experimenting with other possibilities beyond moral storytelling.

    2019 marked the peak of Taiwan’s participation in the Illustrators Exhibition when Taiwanese illustrators accounted for 9 of the 76 featured artists from around the world. As of 2022, the exhibition has featured 89 Taiwanese illustrators since Hsu Su Hsia’s (徐素霞) work was first chosen in 1989. These illustrators include Page Tsou (鄒駿昇) and Cho Pei-Hsin (卓霈欣) who won the International Award for Illustration (awarded by Fundación SM, part of Spanish publisher Grupo SM) in 2011 and 2021 respectively.

    If an artist’s work is featured in the exhibition and they’re able to go on and publish a full-length picture book, it usually has a substantial impact on their domestic reputation, and the relevant invitations start to pour in, such as those from government bodies involved in making picture books that relate to policy or cultural conservation. For example, the Taoyuan Government’s Cultural Affairs Department invited Ballboss and Lin Lian-En (林廉恩) to each create their own work on the topic of “Remembering Military Dependents’ Villages”. These works portrayed the communities which gradually formed in settlements that were purpose built for Nationalist soldiers and their dependents when they retreated from mainland China in 1949. In 2022, Ballboss was featured in the Illustrators Exhibition for a second time with his book Flight from Crow Cave (從烏鴉洞起飛), and Page Tsou was featured a fifth time with his work Hide and Seek (捉迷藏) which was published by the National Taiwan Museum.

    There are two illustrators from the last few years whose works we particularly wanted to recommend to international readers. Both artists have been featured twice in the Illustrators Exhibition:


    Liu Hsu-Kung 劉旭恭 (2015, 2018)

    After creating children’s picture books for the last 20 years, Liu had already amassed a large number of loyal readers by the time his work was selected for the Illustrators Exhibition. His books were often philosophical without being pretentious and while the style was very childlike, a lot of adults also found themselves falling in love with the stories after reading them aloud. His first book I Want to Eat Durians! (好想吃榴槤) still transcends age boundaries and is widely beloved by readers. Similarly, his other books such as The Orange Horse (橘色的馬), Off to Tortoiseland (到烏龜國去), The Little Paper Boat (小紙船) and Little Mouse’s Dream (小老鼠的夢想) are all worth recommending to international readers.

    Who’s Stop Is This? (誰的家到了) (featured in the 2015 Illustrators Exhibition) is a board book, which is a format that remains relatively rare among Taiwanese children’s books. Although the plot and image composition are both quite simple, there are still details that are worth exploring such as the protagonist which is a bus designed to look like an animal so that it feels kinder and a little less mechanical. The passengers get off the bus one after the other and head home, creating a steady rhythm with the kind of added variations that children enjoy. It’s a book that ultimately caters to the emotional needs of toddlers and there’s a comforting ending which leaves them feeling satisfied.

    In Where Did the Ticket Go? (車票去哪裡了) (featured in 2018) the story immediately begins with a series of narrative climaxes that combine with powerful colour contrasts to make the story feel fast-paced, but the book’s ending and the way the story develops in the middle section both leave the reader with a feeling of tranquillity. Again and again, the characters are full of determination as they embark on challenging expeditions together. However, what truly stays with the reader isn’t the characters’ drive but rather the thoughtful way their determination transforms as they approach their difficult goals.  


    Chang Hsiaochi  張筱琦 (2020, 2021)

    Before her work was selected for the Bologna Illustration Exhibition, Chang Hsiaochi had mostly collaborated with other writers and her characters often felt like they were doing little leaps. While there was a slight cautiousness to these leaps, it was clear from her illustrations that she longed to be less constrained and have more narrative scope. After her five drawings from Waiting for Mama (等媽媽來的時候) were selected for the exhibition in 2020, then another five from Which Side is Which? (哪邊是哪邊) were selected in 2021, she developed the original illustrations into picture books where she could act as both author and illustrator. These two books and her two other titles that were published at around the same time (The Moon Today (今天的月亮) and We’ll Get There Anyway! (反正都可以到嘛)) showed just how agile her illustrations could be and how in the process she could make readers’ childlike hearts leap too.

    While all four texts are extremely short, there is a joyful rhythm in reading them aloud. Moreover, with the exception of Waiting for Mama’s relatively clear-cut subject matter, all of Chang’s picture books are almost impossible for the reader to easily define. It can seem like there isn’t an underlying purpose to these books and yet they always leave the reader feeling good. And after all, what could be more important for a picture book creator than writing and illustrating works that make her happy and make her readers feel good?


    Both Liu and Chang’s illustration styles tend to be unpolished in a way that feels effortless and their simplicity holds up well over repeat readings. The Illustration Exhibition has also featured Taiwanese artists whose picture books confront heavier issues. For example, Sometimes (有時候) by Ali Ginger (阿力金吉兒) (featured in 2012) poetically depicts the strength of human resilience in the face of natural disasters; Good Things (好東西) by Huang Yu-Chin (黃郁欽) (featured in 2016) creates an unusual character to get readers to contemplate nuclear energy; and Once Upon a Time, A Train Came to the Island (從前從前,火車來到小島) by Yi Wen (黃一文) (featured in 2021) confronts historical scars from a perspective of transformative justice. All of these books feature spectacular words and illustrations that make each of them significant and far-reaching in their own way.

  • 2022 Taipei International Book Exhibition Brings a New Chapter for Post-Pandemic Publishing World (II)
    Sep 05, 2022 / By Michelle Tu ∥ Translated by Jenna Tang

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=180


    The international section of this year’s book exhibition was especially admirable. The Hong Kong Literature section successfully sold 52 contemporary titles on the opening day of the exhibition. Starting from June 3rd, they were able to earn approximately USD 2,000 dollars every day. For small publishing houses that took part in the book exhibition for the first time, the results were impressive. Hong Kong author Tang Siu Wa, who organized the Hong Kong Literature section, expressed: “Taipei International Book Exhibition is, among all the major book exhibitions in Asia's Mandarin-speaking world, the most complete and organized one so far…within the chaos around the world, where lockdowns are still happening and restrictions are being imposed, what I’m feeling is exactly the meaningful determination, insistence, and accomplishments.”

    Germany, a country with a vibrant publishing industry, had Frankfurter Buchmesse GmbH organize their section this year. The themes they included were: queer, race, transgender, subcultures, self-recognition, graphic novels, psychology, and professional intellectual titles. Bookseller Sunny Books also collaborated in an exhibition of winners of Germany’s three major literary awards: World’s Most Beautiful Book Awards, The Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis, and The German Book Prize. The German Literature section exhibited nearly 600 titles, and Goethe-Institut Taipei organized panels on cultural equity, historical memories, and Artificial Intelligence. All these vibrant scenes showed that the amount of publications are still increasing during the post-pandemic period.


    German Section


    In response to international events, Taipei International Book Exhibition, alongside book fairs in Frankfurt, London, Bologna, Guadalajara, and more, all expressed their deep regrets and sorrow toward the Ukrainian war that started in February this year. To condemn war and advocate for peace, the Taipei International Book Exhibition organized a Ukraine section in the exhibition, using Stand with Ukraine as its motto, including a collaboration with Ukraine’s Pictoric illustrators: carefully selected 15 artworks depicting scenes of Ukrainian refugees looking for a way out, the war destroying their homes, and Ukrainian citizens’ loss and grief, hoping to create a global conversation through art in pursuit of eventual peace. Valentina Butenko, the visiting book-selling manager of Ukraine’s YAKABOO platform, narrated the details of Ukraine’s history and its connection to the world, and also emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s languages and the deep meanings of recognition of a country. What was even more worth mentioning is that the “Peace Book Exhibition,” specially designed by Taipei Book Fair Foundation, attracted many audiences and professionals to browse and read, reflecting on the value and truth of peace.


    Ukraine Section: Stand with Ukraine
    (c) Taipei Book Fair Foundation


    The 2022 Taipei International Book Exhibition, apart from highlighting the promotion of publications, also hoped to connect to global publishing houses that specialize in children’s picture books and graphic novels, to provide new perspectives. This year, there was a special invitation curated by visual artist Page Tsou, designing “Visual Fanzine – Illustrated Landscape of the Encounters of Taiwanese Artists” beside the conventional book exhibition space. This other space exhibited artworks and books from 23 illustrators who had recently been awarded national prizes or had successfully sold their titles to foreign publishers. Illustrators such as the internationally-acclaimed Jimmy Liao; Inca Pan, the very first Taiwanese artist who went on the New York Times and had created discussions from his NFT artworks; Gao Yan, the cover designer and illustrator of the well-known Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s prose collection Abandoning a Cat; Cho Pei-Hsin, the winner of Bologna's 2021 International Award for Illustration, and more.

    Looking ahead to the 2023 Taipei International Book Exhibition, the planning for the guest of honor is ready to be launched. Poland, a country that deeply values history, music, science, education, and children’s rights, houses five winners for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and they will be advocating national literary awards winning works as well as children’s picture books that are brimming with poetic aesthetics. Under the solid tradition of documentary reportage, they will be introducing established literary works and their authors, hoping to establish more meaningful connections with Taiwanese readers, as well as publishing professionals in Asia. From January 31st to February 5th, 2023, publishing friends and readers from all over the world are welcome to visit! 

  • 2022 Taipei International Book Exhibition Brings a New Chapter for Post-Pandemic Publishing World (I)
    Sep 02, 2022 / By Michelle Tu ∥ Translated by Jenna Tang

    Since 1987, Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE) has become the most vibrant annual book fair in Asia, highlighting democracy, liberty, and equity through showcasing published books. Due to the global pandemic, TIBE had to cancel the international book fair for the past two years. Finally, in 2022, between June 2nd and June 7th, the thirtieth Taipei International Book Exhibition took place: a total of 31 countries and 364 publishers from Taiwan and abroad took part in the global gathering. The total number of visitors went up to over 250 thousand people. The special exhibition “HELLO 30!” used the artistic design of a time capsule for visitors to look back on memories of the Taipei International Book Exhibition, as well as major publishing events from past to present.


    HELLO 30! Time Capsule


    During the exhibition, there were virtual meetings and live panels from authors, including Pierre Lemaitre, the Prix Goncourt prize winner; Chantal Thomas, the winner of Prix Fémina; Emmanuel Lepage, the winner of Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for the Best Album; Éric Faye, the Grand Prix de littérature de l’Académie française winner; Ha Jin, an author whom most Taiwanese readers are familiar with, who is also the winner of America’s National Book Award; Jonathan Franzen, the one-and-only person who appeared at the cover of Times Magazine as “Great American Novelist” in the last four decades; Charles Yu, the very first Taiwanese American author who received America’s National Book Award, and Li Kotomi, the very first Taiwanese-Japanese writer who received affirmation from Japan’s Akutagawa Prize. Throughout six days of exhibition, over 500 panels took place with distinctive features. As part of the international intellectual industry exhibitions, Taipei International Book Exhibition made rich and diverse reading events happen, attracting young generations to gather during the weekend, making it a moving, vibrant landscape.


    Virtual and Live Events (c) Taipei Book Fair Foundation


    Faced with the severe spread of COVID-19 in Taiwan, on May 8th, the number of people testing positive within a day had reached 44,361 people, which was the highest record around the world on that day. Before the opening of the book exhibition, it was concerning if the exhibition would end up being extremely empty. However, the main organizer, Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, offered twenty million New Taiwan dollars of book coupons: every reader who visited the book exhibition would receive a hundred-dollar book coupon. The strategy worked very efficiently, and over two hundred thousand coupons were distributed during the Taipei International Book Exhibition.

    The most important highlight of this year is that France was the guest of honor for the fourth time: the sea of books that contained over 1,200 new titles, along with Proust’s handwritten manuscripts, Emmanuel Lepage’s illustration exhibition, voice economy forum, audio from famous authors’ readings, and more. There were a total of 52 full-house author conversations, translation workshops, French language classes, and comic concerts. The number of visitors proved that there was a reconciliation between attending in-person activities and preventing the spread of viruses.


    Emmanuel Lepage’s Illustration Exhibition


    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=181

  • New Steps for the Development of Taiwanese Queer Fiction (II)
    Aug 09, 2022 / By Chang Yi-Hsum ∥ Translated by Jenna Tang

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=178


    The above three novelists are all deeply influenced by Taiwanese literature. With initial observation, we can tell that the earliest Taiwanese queer novels are modernist writings that are, at the same time, partly-autobiographical and confessional (take Qiu Miaojin (邱妙津) as an example) and they have been staying afloat in Taiwanese literature and history. The influence of Taiwanese queer novels has gone beyond coming-of-age stories and romance novels, and have entered a more diverse realm where social conversations take place. Writings from queer writers who were born past the ’70s, such as Ghost Town (鬼地方) from Kevin Chen (陳思宏), a story based on Yongjing, the author’s birthplace, and Kan Yao-Ming’s (甘耀明) Becoming Bunun (成為真正的人) can both be perceived as a reflection of this new phenomenon.

    Besides the titles mentioned above, since the “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times” movement, a considerable amount of writings from Hong Kong writers has begun to appear in Taiwan. Some of these authors studied abroad in Taiwan, and some have settled on the island. Although “Hong Kong’s fate” is the most distinctive theme, the key element in so many stellar writings is the excellence of these authors’ skills. What these writings address aren’t limited to historical trauma. In this trend, a musician from Hong Kong, Wang He-Ping (王和平), who had studied in Hualien, has written That’s the Hormones Speaking (色情白噪音). Just like the title, the author intends to let hormones, who exist without a language, speak out. In her work, queerness is filled with both piercing, sensory strength and the overthrowing of established rhetorics.

    Last but not least, the upcoming short story collection from Tetsuya Terao (寺尾哲也), Bullets Are the Remaining Life (子彈是餘生), is worth mentioning. Once a resident of San Francisco and a former Google software engineer, the author perfectly presents the landscapes of this professional field, as well as the background of Taiwanese nationals who reside in the States. There are three other elements that bring attention to this author’s writing: first is his style – he writes in a cold, piercing, yet concise and moving way, making the reading experience fast and pleasurable; secondly, in contrast to general assumptions, queer people who work in engineering and earn high salaries, don’t necessarily have easy lives. They might feel lonely in this elite environment with such high pressure. Scenes of queer people who died by suicide, who had suicidal thoughts, and who lived with the memories of other queer people who died by suicide appear frequently. The sense of despair isn’t to overly evoke emotions, but to be understood as “a state of mourning”, which gives it an even more profound meaning. Third is the profound existence of queer desire, and how it is never strengthened despite any positive feedback and experiences. Sexual enlightenment or sexual awakening, despite bearing the nature of humility, setback, and void, is still a part of the desire. Therefore, the queer community that is brought out by Tetsuya Terao, also joined the literary tradition that never gives up on “individuals who fell apart”.

  • New Steps for the Development of Taiwanese Queer Fiction (I)
    Aug 08, 2022 / By Chang Yi-Hsum ∥ Translated by Jenna Tang

    Looking at the genre, Taiwanese queer poetry is gaining force; as for fiction, there is no shortage of great works; as for essays about coming out of the closet, they picked up the rhythm slightly later – the queer essay collection Thorns and Waves (刺與浪) didn’t get published until 2022. Scripts started with Tian Chi-Yuan (田啟元), with some established styles, and Chien Li-Ying (簡莉穎) is one of the most compelling authors. In addition, the photography book Hand in Hand, Together  (拉拉手,在一起) incorporates photography and many queer communities’ personal statements. In the same genre of works that focus on this social movement and its course of development to strive for the equal marriage rights between 2016 and 2019, is The Calm After the Storm (雨過天青). Movie director Huang Hui-Chen’s (黃惠偵) The Priestess Walks Alone (我和我的T媽媽) bears significant importance: it is a moving confession from an adult daughter whose mother identifies herself as lesbian. In the following report, I have selected a few queer novels to focus on:


    Starting from 1997, Taiwan began to establish a university major in Taiwanese literature. This development was perceived as a means to preserve Taiwan’s languages and history, but was thought of less as being related to creative works, or even to advocacy for queer writings. If one wanted to learn more about queer culture, after the ‘90s – majoring in English, American Literature, or other Foreign Language Literature was the primary option.

    After 2017, new changes and literary phenomena made us look back to the turning points in 1997. First of all, Yang Shuang-Zi’s (楊双子) two novels, Seasons of Bloom (花開時節) and Taiwan Travelogue (台灣漫遊錄), are about the female queer stories that took place during the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan. The author had a firm grasp of Taiwanese history, causing queer literature, which is oftentimes introspective, to suddenly gain a unique sense of space. Lin Hsin Hui’s (林新惠) short story collection, Human Glitches (瑕疵人型), is interwoven with horror, bringing in objects and sci-fi writing to deconstruct the established gender disciplines. One of the stories in the collection, “Cover Up” (虛掩), was selected as a main source text for adaptation for the 2020 Taipei Golden Horse Film Academy’s final presentation. Ho Wen-Jin’s (何玟珒) That Day, We Searched Our Ways Behind a Chicken Butt (那一天我們跟在雞屁股後面尋路), on the other hand, is a work without any reservation, which embraces the queerness and the interactive dialectics of Taiwanese literature and history. The tradition of “換斗 changing stars” (a ceremony performance in which people change the gender of a fetus) is compared with transgender surgery: the former is the changing of gender under others’ expectations, while the latter is a personal decision – showing an excellent ability for criticism. Besides all this, the author has solid comedy skills. The sharpest section of this novel was the part that precisely reveals under which circumstances will queer memories be erased.


    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=179

  • For Readers, Publishers, and Authors, E-Book Is a New Choice
    Jul 07, 2022 / By Wolf Hsu ∥ Translated by Jenna Tang

    Reading is one of the simplest ways to solve our doubts, learn new knowledge, experience different lives, and entertain ourselves. As a reader, I keep thinking about how the most ideal publishing market is one that will be able to satisfy all the needs mentioned above – no matter how obscure the information I am looking for, or how strange the stories I love – I hope I can always find the book I need most at the moment.

    However, we can look at it in a different way. As someone who has been working in publishing for so many years, I understand such a goal isn’t easy to achieve. There are three main reasons.

    First, it is about the size of the market. The act of publishing is full of cultural significance, but it is also a straightforward commercial transaction. Most published products are intended for the consumer market. The amount of books purchased by readers will directly impact publishing records. Looking at the publishing records based on Taiwan’s National Central Library’s annual number of ISBN applications: during relatively slow periods, Taiwan’s book market published around 36,000 books (2020), while at its peak over 57,000 books have come out (in 2021, including a growing number of eBooks and audiobooks). Neither of these numbers include books that were self-published, or paperbacks and eBooks that were published without an ISBN. Ruling off the exam preparation books and potentially overlapping books (the title with separate ISBNs for paperback and eBook form), every year, there are around 30,000 books being published in Taiwan, which shows the publishing houses’ intention to satisfy the diverse and niche tastes from the readers. However, these books mostly lack marketing resources. If readers didn’t actively search for these books on their own, it would be hard for them to simply stumble upon them. In the meanwhile, if sales figures aren’t as high, the publishing house will lose profits to support the company, making them less willing to publish these types of books.

    Another thing is, the publishing industry itself can be experimental. In fact, most commercial transactions that attempt to push creative works into the consumer market are all somewhat experimental. An experienced person working in publishing can normally foresee how many copies will be sold. However, the market variables can be extreme; bestsellers are usually underdogs that people don’t have much expectations for. What happens often is that the sales figures don’t reach their goals.

    No matter what the circumstances, a title without viable sales figures will put pressure on the publishing house – books still in stock are the third obstacle that keep the publishing market from becoming more diverse. Books that are still in stock take up space and cost extra storage rental for the publishing house. Not only are these books unable to generate profits, they actually increase overhead costs for the publisher. If a title isn’t selling well, the profits of the book may already have been completely depleted by the cost of the storage rental before the expiration of the first license period. If a title has very few books left in stock and the publishing house is considering reprinting or producing another edition, the staff also need to consider the space they have for books remaining in stock: most reprinted books no longer produce the same marketing plan as the first printing, so sales may be slow compared to a new title. Although the cost of reprinting the same title might be lower, the cost of storage rental for the remaining stock doesn’t change. Therefore, if a publishing house is feeling uncertain about the sales performance of a book, they might choose not to reprint the title, which means that the readers who are in search of the book will not be able to find them anymore.

    Of course, these factors are mostly relevant to most traditional paperbacks – the number of copies in print and the cost of storage rental have to be seriously considered if a publishing house is producing paperbacks. This is where eBooks can help relieve the burden.

    To take my own books as example, both my novels The Pretender and What A Wonderful World​​​​​​​ skipped the traditional paperback publishing process and were instead published directly as eBooks. These books had been originally drafted on word processors and saved as digital files. It wasn’t difficult to convert them into the most commonly used EPub3 format. I also designed and drew the cover myself. Taiwan’s Readmoo application is the biggest platform for books published in traditional Chinese on the island. It is also a very convenient shelf system. I can update the title to the latest version at all times, and I am able to check the sales figures on my own. The paperback of my short story collection Fix went out of stock in 2021, although the TV series rights and the comic adaptation rights had been sold and both productions were in progress. After serious consideration, the publishing house decided to wait for the transition and the finalization of both the TV series and the comic before reprinting them. Since then, Fix has changed publishers and now has been released with additional content. During the period when the paperbacks were out of stock and before the new edition was released, eBooks became a very powerful way to balance the sales figures.

    By solving these issues with efficiency, the publishing market will be able to keep publishing diverse titles. Therefore, for readers, publishing houses, and authors alike, eBooks are a great way to boost the visibility of various titles. For the book market in Taiwan, it is especially important to invest more in producing eBooks.