ABOUT LATEST BOOKS AUTHORS RESOURCES AWARDS FELLOWSHIP GRANT

LATEST

  • Bearing the Burdens of History (II)
    Apr 12, 2021 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=125

    Under the vicissitudes of colonization and cultural assimilation, Salizan’s Bunun ancestors, proud hunters and stewards of the forest, so well-versed in the wisdom of the head strap, became laborers serving at the whims of others, and the head strap became the tool that sped the demise of their culture. For, after subduing the Bunun people, the Japanese colonial regime relocated them out of the mountain highlands and forced them to work as coolies, a move that cut off the tribe from their ancestral lands. Mr. Lin Yuan-Yuan, a Bunun elder, told Salizan a grisly tale on one of their expeditions into the mountains: “There was an Isbukun Bunun named Vilan who was also (forced into) carrying Chinese juniper wood. His family was from Mashisan. He borrowed a rifle from the Japanese to go hunting. He took it to the old family home and shot himself because he wanted to die in the same house as his parents.”

    Salizan Takisvilainan

    In “Monuments of Sorrow” Salizan tells how the way of life of the tribes people was transformed by the roads, residences, and schools built by the Japanese as they pushed their way into the mountain highlands, with all the force of empire behind them. As their territory shrank, the Bunun people were forced into labor, exploited. In battle after battle, conflict after conflict, the blood of the Bunun people was spilled, soaking the earth, but the memorials that were built invariably celebrated the Japanese invaders. The only legacies left to the natives who died defending their land were criminal records. In “Trail of Tears” readers are guided through the reconstruction of a stone house. Through the careful stacking of the stone flags, a process requiring almost reverential patience, the ruins of an old home are gradually restored, along with the vanishing construction techniques of the Bunun people.

     

    According to Salizan, his direct ancestors were relocated from the mountain highlands at 2000 meters down to a new settlement at 300 meters. He has already gathered a mountain of documentary evidence and oral accounts of this event. In time he will collate and organize these materials, and write the story of his own family’s upheaval from their ancestral lands.

     

    I stand atop the summit;

    From my tribal culture, I face these ranges.

    Let me and the land of my ancestors once more produce new meaning.

    - Salizan Takisvilainan “Homeland, Village, Person”

  • Bearing the Burdens of History (I)
    Apr 12, 2021 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    We are told that during the Age of Discovery, as the Portuguese explorers sailed past Taiwan for the first time, they cried out in astonishment, “Ilha formosa!” (“Beautiful island!”). Indeed, Taiwan is a rich and fertile land, blessed with an abundance of flora and fauna. Its geography is diverse, its landscape both pleasing and well-suited for human inhabitation. Although research now suggests that first people to call this island Formosa were likely Spanish colonists, the story of the Portuguese explorers has long since become a touchstone of pride for all Taiwanese, and a powerful echo of the reverence that binds its aboriginal people to the island, their spiritual mother.

     

    Taiwan and much of Latin America occupy parallel histories: colonization by the Spanish; periods of dictatorial rule followed by struggles for independence. Over the course of history, control of Taiwan has successively passed from the aboriginal inhabitants to the Dutch, to the Spaniards, to the Tungning Kingdom (the Ming successor state established by Koxinga), to the Qing Dynasty, to Imperial Japan, to the Kuomintang, before finally flowering under modern democracy. Alongside this intermingling of cultures and bloodlines, Taiwan’s literature has developed into the variegated display of forms we see today. Yet, because they originally had no written language to record their stories, the literature of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples has only gradually, through the tireless labor of dedicated individuals, gained belated recognition.

     

    For Salizan Takisvilainan, a young poet of the Bunun people who left his tribal lands to pursue an education but eventually returned, drawn by the deep love of his native culture, the barriers to cultural preservation presented by the lack of a written language are all too real. To better grapple with these challenges, he established Millet String Publishing House, an independent publisher based in Nakahila Village, Jhuosi Township, Hualien County. A laborer of language, a bearer of words, Salizan uses the Latin alphabet to phonetically record the stories of village elders, and prepares them for native-language publication. So far, he has produced A Simple Dictionary of the Takbanuaz Dialect of the Bunun Language, An Oral Account of the Kasibanan Incident, and Mipakaliva: Age of Legend – Myths of the Bunun People of Jhuosi Township. Concurrent with his publishing work, Salizan has worked as a mountain guide and porter, and undertook the writing of Moving Mountains: A Tale of Rangers and Porters.

     

    After completing his obligatory military service, Salizan began following tribal elders into the mountains, where, over the next ten-plus years, he gathered materials for the Moving Mountains: A Tale of Rangers and Porters, three pieces of reportage comprising his personal experiences supplemented by a plethora of practical field studies. The eponymous first essay deals with heads straps, the indispensable tools of transport of his ancestors – woven headbands from which a large basket was suspended, allowing one to bear weight with the head and neck, while the basket rests against the back. In earlier times, head straps allowed Bunun tribesman to carry quarry home after a hunt, or to transport the large stone flags needed to build stone houses.

    Moving Mountains: A Tale of Rangers and Porters

     

    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=126

  • Chopsticks, Batons, and Authorial Acrobatics: A Collaboration Between Editor and Writers (II)
    Apr 12, 2021 / By Kaiting Chan (Editor of Chopsticks) ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=123

    We hoped readers would sense subtle connections linking the three stories based on the prompts alone, and then the last two stories could surprise readers by creating a more coherent whole. The idea of “passing the baton” to the next writer became another critical step in the book’s development. Although the collaborative framework of the book would be laid out there on the book jacket, we hoped the experience of reading the linked stories would far surpass the mere explication. For Xiao Xiang Shen, the author of “The Dream of the Crocodile”, this wasn’t his first time receiving the baton from another writer. He had already proved himself writing in the relay race format, which is why we assigned him the fourth story. The first three stories were a superstitious tale of horror, a suspense story laced with romance, and a mystery fusing a tale of detection with elements of social realism. With the fourth story, Xiao Xiang Shen expanded the blueprint of the book by writing from an almost sociological perspective, addressing the culture of chopsticks, and the difficulties faced by young women in contemporary Asian society. While surprising, “The Dream of the Crocodile” provided a satisfying conclusion, which only increased the difficulty of the challenge faced by the fifth writer. Now that the string of chopsticks-related incidents had reached a perfect conclusion, what was Chan Ho-Kei to write about?

    Xiao Xiang Shen

    I consider this the final miracle of the book, a miracle woven by five writers. This isn’t just a collaboration between writers. It is an acrobatic competition with five performers on the same stage, all attempting to outdo each other. In addition to addressing the themes assigned by the editorial team, each is throwing down the gauntlet to the writers that follow. “What materials are you going to harvest from my story? Are you going to tie up the loose ends?” Or perhaps, “Will you notice the little mysteries I left unsolved?” The last two writers are the wide receivers, catching the compositional elements and foreshadowing thrown to them by the first three, possibly even picking up a fumble or two. They are expanding the scope of the book, while, at the same time, stitching its pieces together and cleaning up loose threads. Even more astounding is the fact that none of the writers were acquainted with each other before beginning the book. All they had in common was that they were all mystery writers. The synchronicities that emerge between the writers’ stories is a product of their passion, spirit, and professionalism.

    Chan Ho-Kei

    I’m not confident we could actually pull off another miracle like this one. Just getting authors interested in this kind of collaboration is rare and wonderful enough, like spotting a shooting star at night. After coming up with the basic themes, Xerses, JeTauZi, and I invited Chan Ho-Kei to join us. He immediately began advocating that “good stories know no borders”, which set us on the path of inviting a Japanese writer to join the project, giving form to our transnational concept. Mitsuda Shinzo, a talented writer of supernatural stories, is held in high regard by Taiwanese readers. When it came time to write the final story, Chan Ho-Kei was assisted by a timeline of the events of the previous four stories drawn up by Xiao Xiang Shen, which helped him to locate points where he could weave the threads of the stories together. Nearly every stage of this book would have proved impossible but for the experience and quality of the other writers on the team. Everything about this rare and unique process of creation exceeded our imagining, except, perhaps, for the cliché that once good writers get started, they can’t put down their pens—every story ended up running over our assigned word counts!

     

    Chopsticks is an unexpected success of a book, with its imagination-defying plot and rarely-seen literary pyrotechnics. Combining horror, mystery, fantasy, romance, and science fiction, all built on a foundation of chopstick lore, the book illustrates the cultural commonalities and differences between Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. Simultaneously, the interactions between these five masters of fiction reveals the unique literary characteristics of each region. One book, five stories, rife with ingenious plotting, stunning authorial acrobatics, and a thick atmosphere of mystery and horror distilled from one of the most familiar objects in East Asian culture. We simply cannot wait for these literary pleasures to be enjoyed by book lovers from around the world.

  • Chopsticks, Batons, and Authorial Acrobatics: A Collaboration Between Editor and Writers (I)
    Apr 12, 2021 / By Kaiting Chan (Editor of CHOPSTICKS) ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Chopsticks has been a long journey, one which has yet to reach its end. As the first original book from Apex Press, it has sold surprisingly well in the Taiwan market, receiving rave reviews from readers and critics alike. The tailwinds have held strong, and with the help of numerous people, the book will soon be available to readers in South Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. At this point Chopsticks has taken on a life of its own, one never envisioned by the editor and publisher. It’s the fans who are now opening new horizons for the book.

    Chopsticks

    Combining the talents of writers Mitsuda Shinzo, Xerses, JeTauZi, Xiao Xiang Shen, and Chan Ho-Kei, the structure of Chopsticks is part collaborative creation, part relay race. The first three authors wrote stories based on two prompts: “an urban legend concerning chopsticks” and “a person with a fish-shaped birthmark on their arm”. The latter two picked up the baton where the ones before them left off, writing additional stories to help tie all of the pieces together into a coherent whole.

    Mitsuda Shinzo

    In “Lord Chopsticks”, the first of the three vanguard stories, a Japanese middle school student performs a forbidden ritual by sticking a pair of bamboo chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, thus mimicking a funerary rite. This act summons Lord Chopsticks to grant the student’s wish, but he must pay by becoming prey to a monster that will hunt him through his dreams. The second tale, “The Coral Bones”, is about a young woman who beseeches a Taoist priest with a fish-shaped birthmark on his hand to locate a missing chopstick. Possessed by a spirit known as Immortal Wang, the chopsticks once brought good luck, but decades ago, after one of the pair disappeared, the remaining chopstick has only brought misfortune. “The Cursed Net” is based on a popular urban legend about Bride’s Pool in Hong Kong. According to the legend, if a ritual meal for the dead is placed at the edge of the pool, a ghost bride will appear to take vengeance on behalf of the supplicant. In the story, a young internet star is assisted by the ghost bride in solving the case of her boyfriend’s death during a livestream broadcast. “The Dream of the Crocodile”, links together the first three tales with the story of a father who will stop at nothing to save his son from the curse of Lord Chopsticks. His unflagging determination leads him to the ruins of a flooded school at the bottom of a reservoir, where yet another mystery is revealed. The final story, a sci-fi romance/adventure, completely defies expectations, carrying forward the suspense of the previous four while developing novel linkages between them.

    Xerses

    Looking back it is clear that arriving at the theme of “chopsticks” was the first critical step in the book’s development. The process of selecting the theme was fairly straightforward. We just felt out different ideas, one at a time. To facilitate discussions we created a group on Facebook with Xerses and JeTauZi. Each day we tossed around ideas, looking for areas of commonality between Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. We considered some heavier topics like cram schools or death by overwork, and more general themes, like “the sea”. After turning things over for a while, in a flash of inspiration, JeTauZi came up with “chopsticks”. It struck us as strange at first, but the more we thought about it the more intriguing it sounded. Chopsticks are simple utensils, but each region has its own taboos, myths, and legends around them. It seemed worthwhile to challenge ourselves to create a sense of horror surrounding an ordinary, commonplace object. From chopsticks we free-associated our way to “fish”. Adding the essential element of a person led us to “a person with a fish-shaped birthmark on their arm.”

    JeTauZi

     

    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=124

  • THE BASEBALL CLUB MURDER: A Masterwork of Contemporary Taiwanese Crime Fiction (II)
    Mar 31, 2021 / By Sean Hsu ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=120

     

    Mystery writer Shimada Soji burst onto the scene in 1981 with the release of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, a novel brimming with chilling perversions and the pure pleasures of deduction. The novel set Japanese mystery writers on the path of the Third Wave of Orthodox Writing (also known as New Mystery), venerating early mystery writers like Edogawa Ranpo and Yokomizo Seishi. By the ’90’s, the works of New Mystery writers were slowly being translated and published in Taiwan in Mystery magazine. Followed in the 2000’s by the systematic translation and publication of American and British Golden Age mystery writers by publishers like Yuan-Liou and Faces, a new generation of Taiwanese writers in their twenties and thirties were itching to try their hand at constructing detective stories that revolved around a central ruse. Crown Publishing jumped on the bandwagon with a smorgasbord of projects: the JOY Series, which focused on contemporary American and European crime fiction; a selection of Shimada Soji’s works; the collected works of Ayatsuji Yukito; and the Mystery Fan series, which published other Japanese authors. In 2008, seven years after discontinuing the Crown Award for Popular Fiction, the publisher established the annual Soji Shimada Mystery Award with the inaugural prize going to Mr Pets’ Virtua Street in 2009.

    Virtua Street

    One of the great contributions of the Soji Shimada Award is that it brings together authors and readers: in recent years the award has helped smooth the way for the sale of overseas publishing rights for recipients. In addition, the award has facilitated interactions between Taiwanese and Japanese crime fiction. The short story submission prize established by the Mystery Writers of Taiwan has also played a significant role in raising the profile of Taiwanese crime fiction authors, acting as a much-needed proving ground for aspiring novelists after the closure of Mystery magazine left a dearth of publication opportunities. Without these developments, the market for original crime stories might have sunk to a far lower nadir than seen today.

    The Borrowed

    Meanwhile, genre literature in general has provided an injection of energy into the field of Taiwanese story-telling. In recent years, Taiwan’s cultural and entertainment sector, with its emphasis on exporting soft power, has begun to attract international attention. Book rights have led the way with the sales of overseas translation rights for The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei and The Stir-Fry Sniper by Chang Kuo-Li. The television series The Victim’s Game, adapted from a novel by Tien Ti Wu Hsien, was recently acquired by Netflix. The success of manga/video game crossover The Agnostic Detective, co-created by Xerses and Yingwu Chou, is yet another example. All of this has raised the visibility of Taiwanese creators, and expanded their vision as well, challenging them to create works of increasing breadth, depth, and maturity, characteristics prominently on display in The Baseball Club Murder. Whether it is the clever fusion of Taiwan’s social history into the narrative framework of the Golden Era detective novel, the evocative imagery, or the deft handling of subtle emotional currents, Tang Chia-Bang’s The Baseball Club Murder is never short on charms to court the admiration of readers from around the world.

    The Stir-Fry Sniper

  • THE BASEBALL CLUB MURDER: A Masterwork of Contemporary Taiwanese Crime Fiction (I)
    Mar 31, 2021 / By Sean Hsu ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    The Baseball Club Murder is one of three TAICCA Select titles in Books from Taiwan Issue 13 and the recipient of the 2019 King Car Soji Shimada Mystery Award.

    On the evening of October 31st, 1938, a body is found on a train travelling the Shinten railway line. The deceased, Chen Chin-Shui, a businessman from Banka, died clutching a bottle of Hakutsuru sake. Early the following morning a train out of Taipei pulls into Kaohsiung, the final stop of the West Coast Line. On board is the lifeless body of Fujishima Keizaburo, president of a Japanese trading company, a knife protruding from his chest. A baseball fan club, the Ballgame Association, where both men were members, is the only link between two cases from opposite corners of Taiwan. The victims met there through their mutual interest in baseball, but repeatedly clashed over their differing views and social backgrounds. While investigating the death of Cheng Chin-Shui, detective Li Shan-Hai of the Taipei South Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Department begins to suspect that the murder of Keisaburo Fujishima some 400 kilometers away may be the key to cracking his own case. As the investigation deepens, this case that hinges on the complex relations between Japanese and Taiwanese people in colonial Taiwan leads Detective Li all the way back to the Tapani Incident of 1915, an armed uprising of Taiwanese locals against Japanese imperial rule.

    The Baseball Club Murder

    Author Tang Chia-Bang, a baseball fanatic and former news reporter, says the story was brewing in his mind for many years before he finally took time away from freelance journalism to write this, his first work of fiction. The major awards the book eventually garnered were the furthest thing from his mind when he started. At the banquet for the Soji Shimada Award, Tang said, “My first thought was just to write something to share with a few friends.” Perhaps it is the purity of this original intention that allowed Tang to complete a 100,000 word manuscript that seamlessly integrates baseball, railroads, and Taiwan’s colonial history into the structure of a classic crime novel.

    Of these three elements, history is paramount. Taiwan of 1938 was a colony of Japan – spoils of the First Sino-Japanese War – and would remain so until the end of the Second World War. The evolving relations between colonizer and colonized, initially characterized by armed resistance but later giving way to the détente of mutual prosperity, are distilled within the novel into the murders of two men, the detective investigating the case, and the villain whose identity is obscured within this murky and contentious mix.

    In Taiwan, baseball is a miraculous sport. Now the country’s “national sport”, it was first introduced to Taiwan by the Japanese and gradually took root in the lives of the local people. The sport became a cross-cultural meeting point, a space for interactions on a relatively equal footing, and, for some, an opportunity to completely transform one’s social status. The Kyumikai Club of the novel provides these same functions, but are the conflicts in the club just the usual tussle of competing interests? Or are they a deep running personal vendetta that provides the motive for the crime? The railway setting provides a distant echo of these processes of cultural assimilation (no nation has embraced the subgenre of travel mysteries like Japan), while also being implicated in the novel’s numerous intrigues and puzzles. Like baseball, the development of Taiwan’s railways is intimately linked to Japan, and equally Japanese crime fiction has had a deep impact on Taiwanese readers and writers. That the novel received the Soji Shimada Award may be the greatest acknowledgement of this complex heritage.

     

    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=121