Thu, Mar 19, 2015 - Page 11 News List

Book review: Taiwan Tales: One Country, Eight Stories: A Multicultural Perspective

Reviewer Bradley Winterton recommends ‘Taiwan Tales,’ a collection of eight short stories set in Taiwan and narrated by expats or long-term US residents

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

Taiwan Tales: One Country, Eight Stories: A Multicultural Perspective

Taiwan Tales is a collection of eight short stories set in Taiwan. There isn’t a weak link anywhere in it. It’s a far more professional and compelling assemblage than anyone might reasonably expect, and as such is most definitely recommended reading.

Edward Cheung’s We’ll See Each Other on Facebook is an assured, finely written story about a young Californian who comes to Taipei and quickly becomes an English teacher. He lives in a third story apartment overlooking Shida Night Market, and meets a local girl for what turns out to be a rather short relationship. The tale could have been sad, but Cheung instead remains alert and focused on the Taipei setting, which is presented in detail. My only complaint is that the plot doesn’t quite equal the intensity of the superbly-observed locations.

In the Mood by Hugo Chung presents a gay love-affair experienced by the narrator while serving compulsory service in the Taiwanese military. This time the plot is stronger than its background, while the tone of the narrative is intense and quasi-poetic. The subsidiary characters are strongly evoked — a sergeant who protects the couple, and the rat-pack of other conscripts who circle the two without really understanding what’s going on. Not a lot happens sex-wise, but this is a potent contribution that lends a whole new dimension to the collection as a whole.

The same could be said of Dragon’s Call, which offers us a US-trained “seer” adept at contacting beings most of us aren’t aware of. It’s a family business back home in New England, but by teaching English in Taipei the narrator is hoping for a break from her true profession. She’s not too surprised, though, when she encounters a series of dragons living along the MRT, and it isn’t long before she’s offered the role of “public seer” overlooking the denizens of the line west of Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Minquan W Road Station. This story is a strong example of what the book considers “speculative fiction.”

Very different is Amanda Miao’s Superstition, a semi-skeptical tale set in Taipei during Ghost Month. A school girl has little belief in ghosts as she switches on her iPod, but her mother urges her to take all the traditional precautions. The girl experiences all sorts of misfortunes and eventually accompanies her mother to the temple in an attempt to rid herself of perceived malevolent influences. The author is an academic in the US specializing in linguistics, and this tale is characterized by a vivid re-creation of Taiwanese life, plus an ironic narrative tone that probably succeeds as far as it wants to in seeing Taipei customs from a Western perspective.

Bitter Pill by Katrina Brown is a dystopian tale set in the future. Living conditions in Keelung have become intolerable when an alarm signals some malfunction at a nearby nuclear power plant. Television news advises people to go home and open the emergency boxes issued to all households 10 years earlier. These boxes bear instructions for one person in every house to take the white pill contained in the box, then proceed to one of the coaches waiting to take them south. The city mayor, forging a seat number on a ticket, joins the exodus, only to discover the coaches all become fatally trapped by rock-falls at either end of the Yilan Tunnel. The final twist comes with a new TV announcement. This fine story is narrated with a grim, emotionless realism reminiscent of Orwell.

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