Sun, Dec 14, 2003 - Page 18 News List

A shaggy dog's story about the city of Taipei

Eric Mader-Lin is a hip, free-ranging literary intellectual who has written a satirical novel about Taiwan's capital that is well worth having a look at

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

From here on to the end the book is an engrossing read, and events develop in a way that, when you think back, is entirely logical. Earlier the author had introduced some philosophic dialogues during the dog's night-time visit to Taipei Zoo. He listens to the sage complaints of a red fox, a boa, a hippo, some owls and a sloth. There are also some Biblical references, not surprisingly featuring Noah's ark.

The closeness of writer and protagonist eventually becomes almost certain. The satirist Lucian, for instance, specialized in urbane and unmalicious satire, sometimes in dialogue form. Gulliver's Travels displays his influence, and he was also the favorite classical author of the 17th century French fantasist Francois Rabelais, master of distortions of perspective and of lewd comic scenes on an epic scale. Certainly Lucian's spirit, you feel, and some of his techniques, have helped to shape this book.

Then I did something I should have done earlier -- I went to the author's Web site (www.necessaryprose.com). There I saw that Mader-Lin has translated and written learned articles about classic authors such as Gustave Flaubert and Charles Baudelaire -- erotic diaries in both cases -- and has a serial novel and much more in progress. A lot of this is only published on-line. Here, then, was what could be called a hip, free-ranging literary intellectual, equally at home in Taipei, Laos, and Madison, Wisconsin.

It seems more than a little surprising to have on our hands a comic Taipei novel displaying the influence of Roman satire (Lucian wrote in Greek, but in the age of the Roman Empire). But it contains some good laughs, is very readable, and is all in all a remarkable and high-spirited performance. It's well worth giving a try. It's the sort of book that could overnight easily become a local cult item.

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