ABOUT LATEST BOOKS AUTHORS RESOURCES AWARDS FELLOWSHIP GRANT

LATEST

  • A Snowflake’s Fate (II)
    Oct 30, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=106

    Readers undoubtedly miss Chen Uen’s illustrations, but the story is so brilliant that it deserved to be a standalone novel and has prompted many to reread the comic book.

    Abi-Sword inevitably reminds people of King Arthur and The Sword in the Stone, or the sword of destiny from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or the legendary Japanese sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi. It’s also reminiscent of The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber by the master of wuxia, Jin Yong, where the weapons are crucial in driving the development of the entire story and follow the pattern of rule by righteousness seen in martial arts novels. Abi-Sword, with its hammered blade and Ksitigarbha engraved on the hilt, is the key to the whole story, where a slight turn can bring a reign of terror upon the entire martial arts world.

    The story is told from the perspective of the ninth envoy of the Abi-Sword, Ping Chuan, a waiter at an inn who encounters a guest that happens to be a martial arts scholar. Ping Chuan learns some basic sword-fighting skills before setting out to travel across the country. The story’s rousing words unfurl like an ink painting.   

    There’s something magical about the phrase “to travel across the country” that stirs something within every young reader with lofty ambitions, and Ping Chuan has the kind of opportunity that all teenagers long for. He studies martial arts and startles himself when he tries them out on a fight in a small tavern, but he also suffers setbacks including unjust criminal charges and being left by his lover. He is a devoted companion to Wu-Sheng and the two are close friends despite their age difference. By travelling with Wu-Sheng, Ping Chuan has had the chance to gain 30-40 years’ worth of inner strength. Ping Chuan has all the opportunities that a martial arts protagonist should have, so why in that moment when Wu-Sheng pulls out the Abi-Sword, is he destined to play a supporting role?

    Many questions are answered as the story progresses: the origin of the ninth envoy, the legend of the Abi-Sword, and even Wu-Sheng’s past life are revealed. However, it also raises more questions, like what is the relationship between Wu-Sheng and the character Yu-Jing who appears in comic book’s first and final chapters? What happens to Ping Chuan’s lover? And what happens next in the story? I believe this time author Ma Li won’t keep us waiting too long to find out.

    Ultimately, Abi-Sword shows the reader that hell can take many forms in this life. The old man in the comic book who kills his grandson to appease his hunger, and the evil county magistrate in the novel who’s happy to kill innocent people, are both living in hell. The world is in chaos and misery is everywhere, the only way a hero can bring redemption is by breaking the ban on martial arts. As readers, it’s always easy to project our own experiences onto the protagonist but overlook the suffering.

    As Wu-Sheng states: “Oh, the Abi-Sword! They say it can be used for good or evil, for Buddha or the devil, but I have used it and know that the devil can be as big as a mountain – and that Buddha can be even smaller than a snowflake!”   

    Isn’t that just the nature of human life?  

  • A Snowflake’s Fate (I)
    Oct 30, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    In 2018, Chen Uen (鄭問, 1958-2017) became the first graphic novelist to have his work exhibited at the National Palace Museum, but “The Legacy of Chen Uen: Art, Life & Philosophy” sparked controversy over whether it was too low-brow. Novelist Wu Ming-yi wrote an article on Facebook in its defence entitled “The King of Festering Millstones and Mirrors: Chen Uen and His Works” where he stated: “For my generation, I’m afraid that comic books became the main source of our idols and dreams, as well as our understanding of science, our artistic enlightenment and our very nature. I pretend that I was educated by textbooks, but in reality that was not the case.”

    At a time when information products weren’t popular yet and streets were full of bookstores that rented books rather than sold them, most children’s literary awakenings came from wuxia (martial arts) novels, such as those by Jin Yong, Gu Long, Wong Yee and Qiao Jingfu. Readers would memorize each protagonist’s personality and which martial arts sect they belonged to, what moves they used, the times luck was on their side and the weapons the characters had. All this alongside the stories’ strong sense of gratitude and retribution left a deep mark on readers’ hearts.   

    After Chen Uen passed away, his comic book Abi-Sword wasn’t continued until the original scriptwriter Ma Li published the Abi-Sword Prequel: A Seal Reopens in novel form. When reading the prequel it might be good to also read the original comic book as it’ll give you a deeper understanding of the book’s worldview. In the comic book, Chen Uen made the most of ink painting as a format and used dry brushes to draw texture in muscles, limbs and clothing. He also used fine brushes to capture facial features and emotions. The most shocking of these appears right at the end when Wu-Sheng passes the large cauldron and stone tablet engraved with the misery of all beings, which together look like an imposing pair of eyes with an unfathomably deep expression.

    Abi-Sword

     

    Abi-Sword is set during war-torn chaos of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, starting with Wu-Sheng’s birth and his tragic childhood experiences, wracked with hatred towards the enemy who killed his father. In the fires of the underworld, he encounters the ninth Abi envoy and experiences the three layers of hell: greed, hatred, and ignorance, before finding the Abi-Sword and fighting the eighteen evils. Just as he’s recalling the ceaseless pain of previous generations, the memories suddenly grind to a halt and the origin of hell, the ninth envoy and the Abi-Sword are all left unresolved due to Chen Uen’s death. 30 years after the comic book first started, Ma Li has now shared the answers with readers in novel form.

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=107

  • A Messenger from the Deep (II)
    Oct 23, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=104

    In 2018, a news story featuring a video of a sperm whale surrounded by three whale-watching boats dominated the Taiwanese media. The boats were very close and it looked like the whale was playing a practical joke on them, spraying them with water through its blowhole and even rubbing up against them and getting quite close to the humans.

    Little Flower

     

    As an audience in the era of media giants, we are easily convinced by one-sided information and often too quick to criticize, making it easy to hurt others. The footage was from a publicity film produced by the whale-watching industry but faced a strong backlash after it was reported by the media. People argued “Whales are wild animals, is it good for them to be approaching humans like this?”, “Does the water sprayed by whales contain drug-resistant bacteria?” and “Should the whale-watching industry improve its regulations?” and so on. Thus, Liao Hung-Chi focused on this incident and wrote an article about it called “The Wedding” in its defence, and his book Meeting Little Flower. Together with commentators, people from the whale-watching industry and other front-line workers, Liao Hung-Chi described his encounter with the phenomenon that is Little Flower, a young sperm whale who loves boats and tourists. 

    Hualien sits beside the vast, seemingly-boundless Pacific Ocean with its millions of species, and in his book Liao Hung-Chi states: “As I think about this vast friend who lives out in the Pacific and can travel to its wide breadths and great depths, it reaches far beyond my imagination. When I think that in spite of everything I had the chance to meet such a mammoth friend in this lifetime, I know for sure that mine is no ordinary fate.”

    Compared to other detailed descriptions, these distinct feelings he establishes when encountering animals are enlightening, it makes people want to believe in the broadmindedness of life which binds us together. The crew and tourists are the island’s envoy meeting a benevolent messenger from the deep: Little Flower. Whales amass numerous wounds and scars over their lifetimes, as Little Flower reaches maturity will his many encounters with human emotions leave a similarly lasting impression?

    Through Liao Hung-Chi’s tireless promotional efforts, there are now more and more staff working in marine conservation, among them researchers, commentators and volunteers. We believe that one day, when Taiwanese people think of the ocean they won’t see danger and the unknown but instead will see the rich aquatic ecology and the importance of marine conservation, as they feel a deep love for the sea. 

  • A Messenger from the Deep (I)
    Oct 23, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    It is largely believed that to be a good nature writer, you must integrate your knowledge and observations of the ecological environment and natural resources into your creative work. Well known examples include Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1945) the author of Wild Animals I Have Known and the master of structuralism Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) who wrote Tristes Tropiques. When it comes to Taiwanese authors, the works of oceanographer Liao Hung-Chi are not to be missed.

    After graduating high school, Liao Hung-Chi worked as a buyer for a cement company, an assistant to a parliamentarian, and even went to Indonesia to manage a shrimp farm. It wasn’t until he was 35 that he became a “man of the sea” and began to write. Over the years, he’s written over twenty works on the subject and established the Kuroshio Ocean Education Foundation to promote marine-related cultural heritage, ecological protection, as well as environmental publicity and education efforts. He was recently involved in a documentary called Whale Island  (男人與他的海), and has become one of Taiwan’s most indispensable environmental writers.

     

    Liao Hung-Chi

     

    In Taiwan, most students begin to read Liao Hung-Chi’s writing in junior high with texts featuring Fraser’s dolphins and mahi-mahi, which open their eyes to the scope of the ocean and expand their imaginations when it comes to literary works. However, the way Liao Hung-Chi’s fate intertwines with that of the ocean runs even deeper than how it is portrayed in textbooks. He was born by the ocean, in the city of Hualien, and now makes a living as a “man of the sea”. Spurred on by the ocean’s vastness, it is his life’s pursuit and the source of his creativity.

    While Taiwan is surrounded by the ocean and seaside towns have appeared along the coasts which have become a flourishing industry, older generations are still uncomfortable with their children going to the seaside due to the regularity of typhoons and frequent accidents. For years, people have misunderstood the sea, and Liao Hung-Chi hopes that through his foundation he can help the public gain a more accurate understanding of the ocean.

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=105