Sun, Apr 24, 2005 - Page 19 News List

Prize-winning US novel focuses on life in Yunlin

Former Toulio resident John Dalton's story of a young missionary tells of the many challenges of life abroad


"So in a sense, I was inching my way toward this novel even back then. ... I began the book project in earnest in 1993 and finished in 2001.

"The last time I was back in Toulio was in August 2003," Dalton said. "I was struck by how fast Toulio was growing. There's very little about it now that still feels small-town. People are more worldly and sophisticated. There's less staring at foreigners, for example. With this worldliness comes a certain loss of innocence as well, but I guess this is inevitable and probably necessary."

With the book's religious overtones, some readers have wondered if the author ever worked as a missionary in Taiwan or elsewhere, but he says no and explains more about what the novel is really about.

Dalton says. "I've never been a missionary, and I'm not a practicing Christian, although, much like my main character, Vincent Saunders, I've come to realize that we can love the mystery of our existence as much as the believers love their God, or gods. Readers who really like and understand Heaven Lake understand that Vincent is naive and self-righteous and unaware of the local Taiwanese culture he's mixing with, but that he means well and he's struggling, like we all struggle, to be a better, more open-minded and self-aware person, and that the inner journey he's taking is a brave one."

Dalton is now working on a second novel, but it's a story about life in America and has nothing to do with Taiwan or Asia. When asked if he might revisit Taiwan in some future work, Dalton says: "It's important to me that I have a varied career as a novelist. I love Asia, and my time spent in Taiwan was a particularly happy one, but I don't want to make a career writing solely about one place or idea. Having said that, I'm sure my years living and traveling in Asia will find their way into my work, fiction and non-fiction, in the years to come."

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