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Book Report: FANG SI-CHI'S FIRST LOVE PARADISE
By Jenna Tang
Dec 22, 2021

Lin Yi-Han’s is one of the titles that speaks directly to survival from sexual abuse, echoing with the global #MeToo Movement, hitting the Mandarin-Chinese speaking world with its compelling emotional narrative. Lin Yi-Han’s literary fiction ​Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise ​was originally published in 2017 by Guerrilla Publishing House in Taipei, Taiwan. The publication was during a heated political time when the South Korean government launched multiple trials fighting for the rights of women who suffered from ferocious sex crimes during the second World War. This, alongside the election of the first Taiwanese female president Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, fueled conversations about gender identities, diversity, and equality. Sexual assault became a haunted, yet impactful topic across Asia.​

Fang Si-Chi, a thirteen-year-old girl born in a upper-class family from southern Taiwan develops an intimate friendship with her next-door neighbor, a girl of the same age named Liu Yi-Ting. They share everything together, both material and emotional. Living in a luxury apartment building, they spend most of their time reading literature from all parts of the world at their upstairs neighbor Hsu Yi-Wen’s place, who is well-read, yet mysterious with her seemingly happy marriage. ​When Li Kuo-Hua, a respected cram school Chinese literature teacher who lives in the same building, offers the girls free lessons at his place, Fang Si-Chi’s parents, thinking only of her advancement, gratefully accept. What her parents don’t know is that their expectations are exposing their daughter to a predator at the prime of her teenage sexual awakening.

The novel is strange, surreal, and full of literary imagination. Written in a non-chronological form, the novel echoes John Milton’s “Paradise” sequence via the tripartite structure Paradise, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regained. The story is told through a close third person omniscient narrator with character-shifting perspectives. Throughout the book, readers experience each character’s mentality, the alternating perspectives take a closer look at each of the characters’ experience with desire. Much of the story follows the protagonist Fang Si-Chi, who suffers and survives from sexual abuse that lasts throughout her teenage years. The character-shifting perspectives take place among victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and a sense of unbelonging. The author does not avoid bringing readers into the abuser’s crooked mind to witness the darkness stemming from his Lolita fantasy and the continued violence it inspires. Through piercing insight into Fang Si-Chi’s mental state and her suffering, the novel reveals the chilling impact of sexual abuse, which intertwines with people’s willing blindness and systematic corruption from the Taiwanese society under desperate circumstances.

Part autobiography, this novel is author Lin Yi-Han’s debut and final book, as she passed away in 2017, three months after publication. The novel found instant success when it was first released in Taiwan only months before the global #MeToo movement, instantly raising awareness of sexual violence, once an unspoken topic, and giving voice to survivors who had been repressed. It deeply explores Taiwanese female identity and introduces readers from all parts of the world to the culture of an island that houses unique voices with urgency to be heard.

Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise is an unconventional gem that breaks both traditions of narrative form and taboos surrounding stories of abuse. The story features beautiful prose with dark and groundbreaking use of lines from Chinese literary classics. Narrative polyphony enables the reader to delve deeper into the lyrical tradition of Chinese in order to appreciate how Lin Yi-Han’s style incorporates dark language into emotional narratives that burst with elegance. Although the story depicts a fractured vulnerability, it is told with unsparing emotional honesty that never leans on cultural stereotypes. It not only gives voice to women and survivors but also offers a lens through which a global audience can reexamine sex education, desire, mental health, and belonging.

 

 

Read more:
- Lin Yi-Han: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=378
- Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradisehttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=415