Each year, the Taipei Book Fair Foundation compiles a shortlist of Taiwanese titles that’s recommended to the international publishing market. Here are five of the year’s top fiction and non-fiction picks. All are Chinese-language titles published in Taiwan and currently being translated to English.
Su Beng: An Oral History (史明口述史)
By Su Beng (史明), translated by Chang Hsin-tao and Tang Ci-jyun
Flaneur Culture Lab (行人文化實驗室)
Su Beng (Hoklo, also known as Taiwanese, for Shi Ming, 史明) charts his own evolution from a grandma’s boy to one of Taiwan’s most colorful political figures. The three-volume Su Beng: An Oral History, based on 120 hours of interviews conducted by National Taiwan University students, features Su Beng on subjects like Japanese colonial-era schools, “local-born versus China-born” Taiwanese, why he joined, and left, the Communists under Mao Zedong (毛澤東), his failed attempt to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and the political quagmire that Taiwan faces today. Through it all, you get the sense of a man whose mind is sharp even in old age, who’s tuned in to the beauty of Taiwan and hopes that his passion can become infectious.
Another World in the Motel (摩鐵路之城)
By Chang Ching-hung (張經宏), translated by Hsieh Meng-tsung (謝孟宗)
Chiu Ko Publishing Co (九歌)
Greater Taichung: a balmy city once known for leafy lanes and bookstores, now infamous for its assorted love motels. In Another World in the Motel (摩鐵路之城), Wu Chi-lun (吳季倫) gets a job at one of them. Wu is a whip-smart 17-year-old afflicted with “pissed-off disorder” (不爽症), who dreams of saving up enough to buy a motel and converting it to a European salon for learned conversation. His first-person narrative starts off sluggishly, but the tempo picks up as you get to know the funny, endearing, miserable Taiwanese teen. Written by an old-guard Taichung schoolteacher, the novel offers an engrossing look at elite high schools, as well as love motels and the shenanigans they host.
Ground Zero (零地點)
By Egoyan Zheng (伊格言), translated by Darryl Sterk
Rye Field Publications (麥田出版)
Egoyan Zheng (伊格言) is a Man Asian Literary Prize nominee who has distinguished himself with dense experimental prose. In his latest novel, he steps away from his usual style with a fast-paced dystopian fiction that’s easily digestible. It’s 2017, and the world of his Ground Zero (零地點) is futuristic yet familiar: Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is president of Taiwan but the capital is in Tainan, after a disastrous typhoon struck the north’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and triggered a mass evacuation. Lin Qun-hao (林群浩), an engineer, is the nuclear accident’s sole survivor, but he remembers nothing of what happened that day except that he had received a blank text from his superiors. As Lin struggles to rebuild his memory through Dream Image Reconstruction Therapy, he discovers that he has become the subject of government surveillance.
The Dark Backward (下一個天亮)
By Hsu Chia-tse (徐嘉澤), translated by Jonathan Barnard
Locus Publishing Company (大塊)
Hsu Chia-tse (徐嘉澤), who’s among a tiny cohort of Taiwanese gay romance writers, does use a gay protagonist in his latest novel but sets him in a sweeping saga about democracy. The Dark Backward chronicles three generations of the Lin family, beginning with Lin Tai-lang (林太郎), a journalist who emerges from the 228 Incident as a mute. His son grows up also to be a journalist — at Formosa Magazine (美麗島雜誌), where he stumbles into the heart of the 1979 Kaohsiung Incident. Then there’s Lin Tai-lang’s grandson Lin Zhe-hao (林哲浩), a man in the present day who’s grappling with a secret crush and being gay in the conservative south, along with other social issues that his grandfather could never have imagined. Despite addressing some moribund events, Hsu’s narrative is positive, enacting a spiritual exegesis of how far Taiwan has come.