June 13, 2009

Take Me Away to Taiwan

Take Me Away

Take Me Away is a new feature I am trying out for Saturdays. As a lover of books that take place in different cultures and are about different cultures, I thought this was a good way to share this love with you, my readers and friends!

Each week I will feature a different country or culture (ex. Cherokee, Jewish, etc. that do not have a specific country per se) and list some books that can transport you there.

I am keeping a map of the countries we visit and a list of the specific cultures, which you can see at the bottom of this post. Last time we visited Turkey and before that we visited Chile. This week we are visiting the country of Taiwan in Asia. It is important to understand that Taiwan is an independent country, but is not recognized by China, which sees it as a rebel island. Look below the map for a link to more info on Taiwan. Click on the titles of the books to go to Amazon.com to read reviews and/or purchase the book.

Here is an easy to see map of Taiwan, which is a small island just off the coast of China:
To learn more about Taiwan, click here.

The Foreigner: A Novel by Francie Lin
In Lin's stunning debut, a crime novel set in Taiwan, Emerson Chang, a 40-year-old virgin who's a financial analyst, travels from San Francisco to Taipei on a quest to scatter his mother's ashes and re-establish contact with his shady younger brother, Little P, who's been bequeathed the family hotel. At a meeting with Little P, Chang encounters two peculiar cousins, Poison and Big One, as well as Little P's devious friend, Li An-Qing (aka Atticus), who's anxious to get Little P to sell the family hotel to him. Emerson soon finds himself mixed up in machinations involving Atticus and extortion due to Little P's unsavory dealings. In addition, Emerson loses his job back in California, and the property he's inherited in Taipei turns out to have its own mysteries. Chang's distinctive voice propels a strong and original plot, with horrifying revelations. Taut, smart and often funny, this novel will satisfy readers of thrillers and general fiction alike.

Bamboo Shoots After the Rain: Contemporary Stories by Women Writers of Taiwan edited by Ann Carver and Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang
This remarkable anthology introduces the short fiction of 14 writers, major figures in the literary movements of three generations, who represent a range of class, ethnic, age, and political perspectives. It is filled with "unexpected gems", writes Scarlet Cheng in Belles Lettres, including Lin Hai-yin's story of a woman suffering under a feudal system that dominated Old China; Chiang Hsiao-yun's optimistic solutions to problems of the elderly in the rapidly changing Taiwan of the 1980; and in between, a dozen richly diverse stories of aristocrats, comrades, wices, concubines, children, mothers, sexuality, rape, female initiation, and the tensions between traditional and modern life. "This is not western feminism with an Asian accent", says Bloomsbury Review, "but a description of one culture's reality...The woman protagonists survive both despite and because of their existence in a changing Taiwan." This book includes biographical headnotes, an introduction that addresses the literary movements represented, and an extensive bibliography.

Orphan of Asia by Zhuoliu Wu
Wu's autobiographical novel, completed in 1945 at the end of Japan's colonial rule of Taiwan, and here translated into English for the first time, traces the path of Hu Taiming. Raised in a traditional Taiwanese family, he retains an admiration for China, his ancestral homeland. Even within his own family, Taiming is pulled in opposite directions. His grandfather, Old Hu, takes him to study classic literature at a Chinese school. Old Hu's nephew, Zhida, a policeman who speaks Japanese, causing his family to treat him like a stranger, thinks Taiming should attend the more modern public school. He does, then later travels to Japan for further study. A friend gets him a teaching job in China, but Taiming is forced to leave because of growing anti-Taiwanese sentiment. Back in Taiwan, Taiming, trusted by few, feels like "a small rudderless boat drifting between the currents of two epochs." Wu's novel provides a unique and perceptive look at the consequences of colonial rule and at the roots of some of today's Asian conflicts.

Sailing to Formosa: A Poetic Companion to Taiwan
The forty-eight poets presented here speak on a host of topics, including family and homeland, memory of war, social justice, and the natural world. Collectively, they paint a complex picture of the trauma, travails, and beauties of life in Taiwan. They represent different generations, display different styles, and express different views and positions. With its variety of poetic voices and facing pages of Chinese and English text, Sailing to Formosa will be enjoyed by readers of foreign literature in English translation and by students of Chinese literature and language.

Dragon Kite of the Autumn Moon by Valerie Reddix, Jean Tseng, and Mou-Sien Tseng
Each year, Tin looks forward to Kite's Day, when he and his grandfather fly a homemade kite and, as Taiwanese custom dictates, cut it free at nightfall with the exhortation, "Go now and carry all our misfortune away." This year, though, Tin's grandfather is ill and there is no new kite to fly. Convinced that the tradition could help the old man get well, Tin decides to go alone and fly his special dragon kite--the one his grandfather made when he was born, and which has always hung above his bed. It's a great sacrifice, for traditionally the kites must be burned when they fall back to earth. But this is no ordinary kite, and this is no ordinary night. When Tin cuts it loose, the kite comes to life, sweeping away with a laugh and leaving behind a grandfather restored to health. This exhilarating and touching parable tells of a boy with a generous heart, and the special magic that sometimes happens when moonlight and love conspire. Reddix's narrative unwinds as smoothly as Tin's spool of twine. Like the wind that buoys the kite, the Tsengs' meticulous, glowing watercolors--brimming with authentic detail--give wings to this uncommon picture book. Ages 5-up.

Heaven Lake: A Novel by John Dalton
Dalton's debut novel is an evocative, beautiful exploration of modern-day China, seen through the eyes of a young Christian volunteer named Vincent, who travels to Toulio, a small town in Taiwan, to teach English and Bible-study classes. He acquires a ministry house and begins teaching and also takes on a high-school class of 42 bright teenage girls. Vincent encounters many colorful characters, including Alec, a roguish Scotsman, and Mr. Gwa, an elegant businessman who wants Vincent to travel to the mainland and marry the woman he loves and bring her back to him. Vincent refuses but soon finds himself in a compromising position with one of the girls in his high-school class, who boldly flirts with him and then seduces him. When her older brother learns of the affair, Vincent is forced to flee Toulio and rashly accepts Gwa's offer to go claim Kai-ling, the woman Gwa loves. But as Vincent travels across China, he learns more about the country and, ultimately, himself than he expected.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Do you know of some books that take place in Taiwan that you want to share? Or do you want to share other thoughts? Please leave a note in the comments!

The Take Me Away Map of Countries Visited:

create your own visited country map


  1. Great idea. You've really done your homework to write this post. I'm sorry to say I don't think I've ever read a novel set in Taiwan or written by a Taiwanese author. And my preference for novels are those set in cultures or countries different than my own.
    I'm confined at home so can't get out to book stores and libraries. I don't think I can come up with anything on this week's theme. But I will certainly be anticipating this feature each week-and keeping an eye out for books that fit the category.

  2. Another fabulous post, Rebecca. I was afraid you were going to give this feature up but then I realized you were reading for the challenge. I'm glad to see it back this week. I have had The Foreigner on my list for a while but just haven't gotten around to it yet. Thanks for the reminder. Other than that I don't know of any other Taiwanese writers or novels set in Taiwan. One thing I would like to see at the end of the post though what country you are considering for your next Take Me Away segment.

  3. I'd like to second what Kaye said about announcing in advance the theme for the week. It would give me time to get hold of books that fit the category. Just a thought, no worries if it's not suited to what you have in mind.

  4. This is great! One of my friends left for Taiwan for six weeks last Wednesday. I was sooooo jealous. I think Heaven Lake sounds right up his alley.

  5. What a great feature. Bamboo Shoots After the Rain looks very interesting.

  6. Taiwan I think would be an awesome place to visit.

    Great book selection there.


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