• A Legal Thriller That Combines Genre Entertainment with Social Issues: Review of Freddy Fu-Jui Tang’s PORT OF LIES
    Sep 21, 2022 / By Sean Hsu ∥ Translated by Kevin Wang

    During the decades between 1970 and 2000, the introduction of Japanese detective fiction through translated novels, manga, television dramas, and movies profoundly influenced Taiwanese creatives. Some who wrote literary fiction found inspiration in the social observations and realist techniques of Seichō Matsumoto, and applied them to their own native subject matter. Younger writers were deeply inspired by the induction-driven stories about master sleuths such as the manga series The Kindaichi Case Files and Detective Conan, as well new examples of classical detective fiction by Soji Shimada and Yukito Ayatsuji, whose mystery novels focus primarily on the mechanical aspects of crimes and the persona of the great detective. Since then, the continuous, systematic introduction of recent British, American, and European works have inspired creators to expand their narratives and subject matter, increasing the popular appeal of stories while deepening their potential for discussion. It is within this greater context that Freddy Fu-Jui Tang’s novel Port of Lies has risen to prominence, bolstered by its win at MirrorFiction’s second Million-Dollar Award.

    The novel’s main character, Tung Pao-Chu, is a seasoned public defender of Amis ethnicity who has been working in the judicial system for many years and knows all the tricks of the trade. His superficial sloppiness belies a deeper level of clarity. To win the most favor for his clients, he is always able to strike his opponents with a precisely calibrated question while their guards are down. His latest task is to defend an Indonesian fisherman who killed one of Tung’s childhood friends, a decision that causes others from his Amis indigenous community to spurn him. The case, a murder of a family of three, is filled with treacherous unknowns. Does the convict, who cannot be understood due to a language barrier, have a mental health disorder, or is he refusing to disclose ulterior motives? The enormously complex and profitable offshore fishing industry seems indirectly to have caused the incident. Even the Minister of Justice and the President’s inner circle become involved in the investigation as political calculations in the face of an election and a controversial debate over the retention of the death penalty push them to intervene. Lien Chin-Ping, a recent graduate in alternative civilian service whose father is a senior Supreme Court justice assists Tung in his defense, while Leena, an Indonesian care worker commissioned to interpret for the defendant struggles with the question of how deeply she should be involved. In what should have been a simple criminal defense case, the characters, in their search for the truth and desire to uphold justice, find that the chips on the table may decide the fate of the whole country.

    Port of Lies gains narrative power from the process of criminal litigation, which involves the search for criminal motives and arguments between prosecution and defense. British and American works may also depict a twelve-person jury (Taiwan does not have a jury system, though it is in the process of implementing a system of citizen judges). The novel can be categorized as a legal thriller, written with great conviction by Freddy Fu-Jui Tang, who has a legal background that includes five years of experience as a lawyer. Human rights issues that have taken center stage in Taiwan in recent years, including judicial reforms to abolish the death penalty and grant equal rights to indigenous people and foreign migrant workers. These issues are skillfully presented through the novel’s murder case, prompting readers to raise questions of their own. The differing positions between characters create fascinating dramatic tensions that also reflect the various views of the general public. Was the murder of the boat captain’s family premeditated or done in the spur of the moment? Why does the killer deliberately drown the helpless girl in a bucket of water? What role did the dodgy shipping company play? Does the involvement of high-ranking politicians suggest dark forces behind the scenes that cannot be exposed? The design of these various mysteries strikes a clever balance between entertainment value and socially relevant themes.

    Another aspect of the novel’s charm probably derives from its author’s training in cinematic directing at the California Institute of the Arts, which he began after leaving his lawyer job. This gives the novel a smooth and lively tone without compromising credibility earned through the use of reliable sources and specialized knowledge. Freddy Fu-Jui Tang demonstrates an admirable storytelling ability that retains local Taiwanese characteristics while contributing to the international genre of crime fiction.

  • Inside THE SUNLIGHT TRILOGY: Author Joey Yu Talks About His Inspiration and Creation
    Sep 21, 2022 / By Joey Yu

    INSPIRATION: Why do you want to write an epic fantasy like this? Where did the inspiration come from?

    Snowboarding has always been a popular sport since my student life in Vancouver, Canada. I used to listen to epic fantasy music while riding the snow waves, thinking just how cool it would be if I could hold blades in my hands and fight monsters with my boarding buddies while navigating through trees and powder.

    It was during that time that I began some sketches and wrote down rough story ideas that would eventually turn into one of the first scenes in the books. Then I realized a magic system was needed as the high concept, and a world ecosystem to accommodate that.

    The next decision was whether to set the story in a familiar world. I thought the Earth we knew would be cool, with recognizable cities blanketed by perpetual snowfall (I actually had a concept drawing of the snowclad ruins of Vancouver). You know, impossible locations for such climate – Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands – all of which you will all get to see in the story. Isn’t that cool? A city in the tropical zone you thought you knew, but now entirely snow-choked. They become precious monuments to explore for our protagonists. There’s something awe-inspiring to it.

    Ideas grew, and it became apparent that one book wouldn’t be enough; it had to be at least a trilogy in order to cover the world map. I’m a fantasy fan, so I love looking at maps and imagining the “what-ifs”. Took me years of planning, research, and actual writing.

    Book 1 starts in New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and Taipei. A primal world where no electricity could be produced. People hunt with blades and dress in furs. Pure fantasy setting.

    Book 2 opens up the world, taking us further north to Shanghai (China) and Sakura Island (Japan), introducing a new civilization that leverages the snow magic – or the “snow spirits” – but in a very culturally unique way.

    Book 3 goes to the far west – the European continent and a future city called Avalon – which have invented technologies to harness the same snow magic but use it in an industrial, scientific way.

    There is, of course, a “looming danger” throughline that threatens all remaining civilizations on the snowball Earth. And to uncover it, our characters must make journeys to rediscover our fallen world, connecting present events to myths of what happened five centuries ago.


    Can you talk a little more about the Shade Riders?

    They take on most of the fighting in the books. They are humans whose souls are bonded with Ling – spirits that make unpredictable appearances around deep snow, looking like miniature aurora borealis.

    A Rider’s apprentice must go through a culturally unique ritual for the binding process, locking a spirit inside their riding board crafted by an artisan.

    In the face of danger, a Shade Rider may summon their spirit out of the board, having it wrapped around their chosen weapons inscribed with silver runes – and always with two pieces of weapons, one in each hand, to balance the riding stance.

    Every Shade Rider is unique. With different snow spirits coupling with various chosen weaponry, we get to see many combinations of combat styles, all done while they’re riding the snow in high speed.


    PROCESS: You published the first two books about nine years ago, then there seemed to be a hiatus before you published the final book last year. Why the gap? Did it have to do with your creative process?

    Mostly it was just life getting in the way. A couple years back I tried game writing, and wrote a Kickstarter comic on the side (also a futuristic fantasy setting). So, Sunlight was placed on hold.

    On the realistic side, there was a waiting period before a new publisher could take over. You know, contractual issues. The new publisher was instrumental in hiring a professional artist to conceptualize my world-setting, creating the posters you now see.

    It’s the kind of story that no one’s seen before, hard to categorize as any traditional genre (Well… I call it futuristic fantasy), so coming up with visual posters really help readers to quickly envision the setting in their minds. Mr. Lu DongBiao, a great film concept artist, has totally captured the mood of this world.

    On top of all these, I knew the final book of the series must be both intellectually and emotionally rewarding to the readers, who wanted to feel that all the time invested in reading the first two installments would be worthwhile. So, I set a super high bar for Book 3. I don’t think I’ve done this much research before in my creative career, trying to design whole civilizations across three continents based on Sunlight’s high concept and power system. The process was really fun, and the results paid off (according to my readers). Typing up loose threads, plotting dramatic escalation, designing revelations that go hand in hand with our heroes’ emotional journeys...all these took time. I just never expected them to take that many years.


    So you have three, or four new civilizations on a planet that is entirely covered by snow. The scale of work seems daunting on many levels. But what does this mean to the heroes of the books?

    I have a passion for world-building, so those came natural to me. But good stories still come down to the characters’ choices and transformation.

    Most of the POVs are Shade Riders, who begin their journey in one specific location on the map. Subsequent civilizations are revealed through the characters’ discovery of them, so we experience the story through their eyes just as they’re making sense of a world that’s been silent and sunless for the past 500 years.

    With each discovery, characters old and new are confronted with important questions. How do we bring Sunlight back? Does it even exist behind the clouds? If people finally get to see it with their eyes, will it damage their faith? – These are just some of the questions the characters are asking themselves as they navigate through the snow-covered world.

    What does Sunlight mean to each surviving civilization? How about the Shade Spirits? And the monsters? Why did they appear? Each POV character will derive a different interpretation from their chosen journeys. And a lot of this reflect on our current environment, the way different cultures could view the same thing so differently.

    And maybe there’s a beauty to that. Why do cultures and individuals form vastly different interpretations from the same intangible ideas? Or even from concrete facts. Under miles of thick snow, that might just be the core of truth we’re all trying to explore.


    WORDS TO READERS: Anything you’d like to say to readers overseas?

    Sunlight is a “futuristic fantasy” story – where fantastic elements emerge on Earth five centuries into the future. There are sci-fi elements, too, reinterpreted and reimagined. I trust that readers of different tastes will all find joys from these books. It also suggests a world that dangerously resembles a future when climates go wrong.

    At the core, though, Sunlight is still about the spirit of adventure and exploration. About the bonds we share as humans no matter which culture we’re originally from, or which historical roots we are born into. I am curious to know how American readers, African readers, European readers, and readers from various backgrounds might respond to the story. Will be nice to hear their opinions, to be inspired by their interpretations.

    So hopefully I can invite you to come into my world, to ride through a thousand icy terrains with the Shade Riders, finding lost relics and rare remaining Soul Woods, unravelling climate-altering mysteries, and witnessing the almighty Sunlight for the first time in 500 years.

  • The Archaeology of Posthuman Love
    Sep 21, 2022 / By David Der-wei Wang ∥ Translated by Kevin Wang

    Science fiction is the most important phenomenon of twenty-first century Sinophone literature. By the end of the last century, Hong Kong’s Dung Kai-cheung and Chan Koonchung; China’s Liu Cixin, Han Song, and Wang Jinkang; Taiwan’s Lucifer Hung, Chi Ta-wei, and Andrew Yeh; and overseas writer Chang Shi-Kuo, among others, have all written about time travel, interstellar war, alien monsters, biochemical weapons, the earth in crisis, utopias and dystopias, and other subjects outside of mainstream realist fiction. Large-scale works such as Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem and Han Song’s Tracks and Hospital either conceive of the last struggles of human civilization in the face of extinction by alien invasion or reflect on the Kafkaesque confines of the human condition. While these works engage shrewdly with grand themes, they also lead the reader into unknown worlds and give access to unrevealed visions. Dung Kai-cheung’s Histories of Time offers retrospective accounts from the future of a submerged Hong Kong, while Chan Koonchung, who once lived in Beijing, concocts a socialist heterotopia connecting past to future.

    Science fiction in Taiwan has not been able to develop its own climate, but this has not prevented dedicated writers from experimenting with form and imagining alternate realities. Lou Yi-Chun’s Daughter deploys a knowledge of quantum mechanics and artificial intelligence while reversing typical understandings of moral realism and gender roles. In Kuang Chaoren, Lou incorporates the astrophysics of black holes and white holes into a creative landscape wherein pathological changes in the human body create cracks that allow glimpses into celestial storms. The setting of Lou’s Ming Dynasty pays homage to Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. In the story, a robot transmits data on the Ming Dynasty to another galaxy as the blueprint for a future civilization. Egoyan Zheng’s Ground Zero imagines the causes and consequences of a Taiwanese nuclear power plant explosion and the strange visions brought about by the catastrophe, no less than a tribute to the novel The Ruins of Taiwan by Sung Tse-lai, a writer of a prior generation.

    All these works can be categorized as science fiction, but they have won the attention of readers not only because of their authors’ fantastical imagination and how they cross the boundaries of realism. As science fiction theorist Seo-Young Chu reminds us, the subjects tackled by science fiction narratives are not themselves fantastical. On the contrary, they may be more real than the realities of realist fiction. Chu even believes that all literary creations are works of “science fiction” that turn vulgar matters into magic. The techniques of reenactment and mimesis that realist fiction relies on are only the first step. Science fiction’s ability to reflect on and reconstruct inconceivable, inexplicable reality is what truly demonstrates the power of literature to turn the imaginary into the real. More important, Chu argues that the basic unit of science fiction is the poetic or lyric metaphor – it uses the complex twists of figurative language to turn the “dream world” into narrative expression.

    If so, what are the metaphors in Egoyan’s science fiction compared to that of his contemporaries? Liu Cixin is concerned with the state of emergency before the collapse of human civilization; Han Song is always mired in the claustrophobic syndromes of a black box (China!); Lou Yi-Chun specializes in abject and impossible to unravel ethical farces; the clock of Hong Kong under Dung Kai-cheung’s pen ticks haphazardly; Chan Koonchung’s world is filled with conspiracies that appear in the full light of day. In contrast, Egoyan’s works are more involutionary, like Rubik’s cubes or Russian nesting dolls, spiraling, overlapping, and recursive. Historical, political, ethical, and gender issues all revolve around his surveys of intimate relationships, and all his plot points and characters ultimately point toward the topology of love.

    Egoyan believes that love is the most wondrous variable separating humans from non-humans. Each story in the collection sets up a dialogue or argument about love. In “The Masaki Nikaido Virtual Idol Scam”, the main character willingly invests her life into a lover she meets in dreams. She has no regrets, having asked herself: “Am I afraid of a life without love, or am I afraid of a life without companionship?” In “The Rest of My Life”, an actress and director couple pursue the zero degrees of separation found in perfect love, unable to bear the compromise of anything that “also counts as love”. They experiment with their neurobiologies and do not hesitate to replace their lives as human beings. In “The Dream Projection AI Uprising Against Humanity”, The Phantom, an imprisoned AI creature, shows disdain for humans but is speechless when asked, “You have no desire to reproduce, so are you not capable of love?”. In “Lights in the Mist”, the prevailing church of “Global Consciousness” look negatively on all beliefs, as well as the human capacity for rationality and cognition. They work hard to purge all notions of divine will and all prior philosophical ideas about transcendence in order to become a cleaner species. But while the survivors of the slaughter speak eloquently of their anti-faith beliefs, they are at a loss to explain the origins of “sentience” and its associations with love.

    A dialogue within the fake book’s fictional afterword is rich with meaning. A reporter meets with a virtual pornography mogul to discuss the ways in which human dreams are put into practice. While the survivors of the Global Consciousness cult express their doubts about human cognition and propose cutting the body off from the soul as a way to achieve zero degrees of separation, the porn mogul chooses to go in the opposite direction and uses the most advanced dream making techniques that customizes for all erotic needs, attaining zero degrees of separation through fantasy and pleasure. The climax of their dialogue reveals a shocking clue that leads to another variation of the love-dream debate.

    The first story in Zero Degrees of Separation, “Say I Love You Again”, points to “unfulfilled dreams and the deprivation of love” as the origin points of human trauma. In the story’s climax, a scientist obsessed with cetaceans at the neglect of her child suddenly says “I love you” to her son while in the final stages of developing a cetacean neurobiology. These are human words spoken in the language of orcas. The moment presents a convergence of death and life, fire and light against the night roar of the sea, a place where happiness and the end of happiness are indistinguishable. Is love a miracle? Is it the perfect culmination of a made-up dream? Or is it the most mysterious aspect of being human? Egoyan voices the baffling questions of the posthuman era in the most lyrical terms without giving a definitive answer.

    “The source of love is not known; it only grows deeper.” The bewilderment and lament of the pre-modern dramatist Tang Xianzu still echoes in our posthuman century. In Tang’s classical romance, love’s greatest dimension is that the living may die of it, while the dead may live again through it. If so, a work of science fiction like Zero Degrees of Separation subtly tells us that a posthuman life is always the life of a survivor: the meaning of love begins with picking up the wreckage of (imagined) love.

  • Let’s Be “Muggles”– Taking a Trip to East Asia: Interview with Author of WISH YOU WERE HERE Essay Liu
    Sep 20, 2022 / By Anting Lu ∥ Translated by Serena Ye

    Most Taiwanese readers know screenwriter Essay Liu from the 2010 film Seven Days in Heaven. Over the years, she has continued to write scripts, essays, and novels, bringing works that have captured people’s hearts and attention. But whether her subject is love, food, or life, her readers can often glimpse elements of travel and exotica in her writing; now, the avid traveler has finally decided to write a story about traveling.


    Fiction Close to Life

    Kyoto, Japan; Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet in China; Hualien, Changhua, Taichung, and Taipei in Taiwan. After reading Wish You Were Here, readers will have followed the protagonists on a full-circle tour of East Asia. When asked whether her writing was based on lived experience, Liu smiles and says, “I have to say that if I haven’t been to a place, I doubt I would be able to write about it.” As a novelist, she is well accustomed to turning life experiences into creative fuel, and this fuel often comes from travel.

    In the opening chapter on sky burial, “Shmashana (Charnel ground)”, one can almost see the swooping vultures and smell the stench of corpses permeating the air through her words, which immerse the reader in intense and unsettling sensory information. The sky burial ground left a profound impression on Liu; she describes bodies on the burial ground left for anywhere between two to seven days, assaulting the nose with an odor stronger than any excrement or waste she had ever smelt. It was also the first time that she realized, “So this is what death smells like,” and decided to write this visceral experience into the book.


    A New Kind of Travel Brings Unexpected Inspiration

    When she first decided to write Wish You Were Here, Liu, who is used to basing her writing on personal experience, originally planned to revisit all the places in the book and write while traveling, integrating old memories with new discoveries. However, the disruptions of the 2020 pandemic forced her to forego her travel plans.

    Staying in Taiwan to write, she turned to Google Maps for inspiration. She went online to the cities she had traveled to, and while using Street View and its timeline to browse what places looked like past and present, she suddenly wondered: “Could I be captured by Google cameras while walking on the street one day, and become a part of Street View?” Therefore, having done her “fieldwork” via Google Maps, she gave her protagonist Hsieh An-Te the ability to check Street View, which becomes a major clue in the journey to finding his mother in the narrative.


    To Broaden Your Writing, You Have to Broaden Your Horizons

    The travel-loving Liu loves stories about journeys, including classics like On the Road and Eat Pray Love. Although these “grand trip” stories ostensibly write about travel, their focus is ultimately the fundamental changes effected on the traveler’s state of mind through interaction with people, events, and objects on the road. This sense of transformation fascinates Liu, so when she thought she had enough travel and emotional experience to accomplish this type of work, Wish You Were Here was written.

    But even though the focus is on self-pursuit, the biggest difference between Wish You Were Here and traditional travel and on-the-road works is that Liu spends more time dealing with the family experience of the characters. “I wanted to audaciously explore the idea of ‘don’t be restricted by your family’ in the story.” She says that dealing with family dynamics is the biggest issue for every character in the book, and only after letting go of their attachments and reconciling with their families can they truly embark on their own life journey.


    A Journey on Paper Through the Eyes of the Traveler

    As the interview nears the end, we discuss the work’s potential for international development. Liu mentions that themes of travel and self-discovery have no borders, and hopes that international readers can temporarily forget about the author’s nationality when reading the book, and travel around East Asia, like “Muggles”, through words on the page.

    So which of the places in the book is the most worth visiting? Liu smiles, “If it was a place that you could visit again and again, I’d recommend Kyoto, but if we’re talking a place you have to visit at some point in your life, it’d definitely be Tibet!” Given its complicated entry process and the dangers of traveling at high altitude, Tibet particularly tests people’s physical condition – it’s a place you “may not be able to go to even if you wanted”. Before tourism in East Asia revives, and you can pay a visit to Kyoto or Tibet, why not first read Wish You Were Here and embark on a journey of self-discovery with the characters! 

  • 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!