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  • Science, Faith, and Light Novel: Hassengo and the MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR Series (II)
    Oct 14, 2020 / By Lee Jiheng ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=102

     

    Introducing a Historical Twist: Humanity

    “One branch my family came to Taiwan with the Nationalists. No matter how you approach it, it’s a sensitive topic.[1] My grandfather served in a Nationalist military intelligence unit. I started thinking, wouldn’t it be interesting if you had a spy in that era who was actually working for the benefit of the local people?” So, Hassengo wrote just such a character into his series.

    While discussing the February 28 Incident,[2] it becomes clear how much thought Hassengo has put into the matter: “I’m half descended from Taiwanese stock, half from the mainlanders who came across with the Nationalists. When I was young, everyone around me tiptoed around the subject of ethnicity. What I want to do is find a way for these two ethnicities to drop their mutual distrust.” Hassengo recalls that when the Nationalists arrived in Taiwan, many that worked in intelligence units were living under assumed identities. They had to bury their names, and even deny the families they once had. In the end, many of them were buried with only their assumed names to mark their graves. Even Hassengo’s grandfather, because of the intense political conflicts of the times, had to make a living from his humble clinic. Today, it is difficult for to appreciate the hardships suffered in those times.

    Nonetheless, Hassengo maintains a sense of humor concerning his grandfather’s legacy. When he was visited his grandfather’s disciples to collect material for the novel, he was bemused by the conflicting interpretations he received. “In the end I found that most of them didn’t even completely believe themselves. They had to admit that more had been lost than had been preserved.” The idea expressed in NEVER SAY DIE, that “belief is the spell at the core of faith”, came directly from these experiences, Hassengo adds.

     

    On Writing a Human Story

    Regarding his long-term vision, Hassengo says that he originally had not intended MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR to be a tight-knit series; he hoped that readers could start from any book in the series without feeling they were missing out on important details. However, by the time he began work on the second book, GODS NEVER FORGET, Hassengo had already received feedback from readers and his editors that they would like stronger continuity between the books. In response, he introduced some foreshadowing and mysterious events that he hoped would give readers the cohesion they desired. Now that he has several books under his belt, Hassengo hopes to draw more heavily from his personal experiences in his writing, so his books can function as a kind of conversation between himself and his readers, between himself and the world.

     

    MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR (VOL.2): GODS NEVER FORGET

     

    Hassengo recalls that his original intention was to write crime fiction that revolved around characters, as opposed to a crime or incident, and the light novel seemed like the most suitable medium in which to pursue this. At the same time, he hopes to explore the rich, multidimensional possibilities that arise from setting these characters against a background of traditional Taiwanese culture.

    Now that his books have the opportunity to step out onto the world stage, Hassengo feels grateful to be in a position to help promote Taiwanese culture, and give his readers a deeper understanding of this unique island nation.

     

     


    [1] There is significant political conflict between the Taiwanese who are descended from settlers who came to the island 3-400 years ago, and those who are descended from the Nationalists who arrived in the late 1940’s, owing to the harsh rule initially imposed by the Nationalist government.

    [2] Tensions between the local Taiwanese and the newly arrived Nationalists reached a head on February 28, 1947, when Nationalist soldiers opened fire on protestors, killing thousands of civilians.

  • Science, Faith, and Light Novel: Hassengo and the MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR Series (I)
    Oct 14, 2020 / By Lee Jiheng ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    He was a twenty-year-old university student when his first novel, Testimony, won a special recognition prize at the third annual Sharp Point Media Awards. Shortly afterwards Hassengo was shortlisted for the Mystery Writers of Taiwan annual submission prize. Not six months after that, the first novel of his MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR series was published, describing the adventures of a young girl who is a specialist in the grisly work of traditional Taiwanese funerary rites. While MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR (VOL.1): NEVER SAY DIE incorporates elements of Taiwanese folk religion and burial practices, its tone is light, easing readers into comfortable contact with its sometimes macabre subject matter. By focusing on traditional Taiwanese culture, Hassengo liberates himself from the perennial subjects of popular fiction – fantastic heroes, teenage angst, and campus romance – delving instead into philosophical questions concerning life and death, tradition and modernity, and reason and faith. The result is tale of deduction built on a foundation of mysticism and superstition, but whose ultimate allegiance lies with that most enjoyable of literary genres: the light novel.

     

    MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR (VOL.1): NEVER SAY DIE

     

    When Forensics and Locality Collide

    When asked about the impetus for the novel, Hassengo smiles and replies, “I wanted to use this imported literary form, the light novel, to write a story that only a Taiwanese author could write.”

    Once the form was set, the inspiration for the subject matter struck during his undergraduate studies. Hassengo was pursuing a degree in forensic medicine at the University of Leicester at the time, and was particularly fascinated by his lab courses in forensic autopsy. He was dissecting cadavers when it hit him. “That’s it! I could use ritual bone collecting[1] as a starting point, and write a story against a backdrop of traditional Taiwanese culture.”

    After graduating and returning to Taiwan, Hassengo discovered there were practical limitations to applying the forensic science he had learned: his coursework was based on data collected in Western countries. Hassengo explains: “As a practical matter, forensic science places a lot of emphasis on the geographical environment. Everything I had seen and researched in school was based on case studies from outside Taiwan. If I directly applied that knowledge in Taiwan, it could lead to a lot of problems.” This realization led him to ponder how the land and culture of Taiwan had shaped him growing up. That’s when he decided he had to reevaluate Taiwanese folk beliefs from a scientific perspective.

     

    A Family Legend and the Nature of Belief

    “Some of the material for MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR came from my paternal grandfather who ran a traditional massage and therapy clinic. He was more than just a traditional healer; he also performed Daoist rituals. He had a number of disciples at the time, and left behind written records of his work. Unfortunately, no one understands his writings very well, so I don’t know how the rituals were carried out.” Hassengo’s excitement is obvious as he shares the connection between the precious heirlooms left by his grandfather and the subject matter of his novel.

    “Much of my grandfather’s writing had been passed on to his disciples. As I was gathering materials for my novel, I had to run all over Taiwan visiting these disciples and piecing together my grandfather’s work. But in the end, there were a lot of discrepancies. Various handwritten notes and journals came to have different interpretations in the eyes of different disciples. It was hard to know which version was authoritative.” Hassengo recalls, “My research forced me to conclude that every student has their own interpretation of what they learned from the master.”

    For this reason, as Hassengo began to grapple with issues of belief in his novel, he gradually broke with the exacting demands of science, and adopted an attitude of broad-minded acceptance. “I had to follow a certain principle to avoid coming across as an absolutist. Basically, if someone believes something is true, then it’s true. If someone else has a different point of view, you can’t saw it’s wrong. As long as each person can go on believing what they believe, then everything’s ok.”

    There is a depth in Hassengo’s thinking that belies his youth, and nowhere is that more apparent than in his handling of sensitive topics. In the second and third novels of the series, he touches on the political events at the heart of the deepest divisions in Taiwanese society: the period known as the White Terror. How does Hassengo view this period of history, and why did he choose to write about it?

     

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=103

     

     


    [1] Bone collecting is a religious rite that involves retrieving bones from graves, usually three to five years after burial, to be stored in a special funerary urn. The process is carried out by a ritual specialist known as a bone collector.