Thu, Sep 24, 2015 - Page 11 News List

Book review: Ten tales from the market stalls

Taipei Writers Group’s second anthology has its moments but doesnt quite live up to its predecessor, possibly because of its set theme of night markets

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

Night Market: An Anthology, by Taipei Writers Group

This is the second collection of short stories from the Taipei Writers Group. The first book, Taiwan Tales, was reviewed in Taipei Times on March 19. Then there were eight stories, now there are 10, and all but four are by newcomers. But this time there’s a difference. Whereas in the first collection authors were, naturally enough, allowed to write on whatever subjects they chose, this time there appears to have been a set theme: Taiwan’s night markets.

I think this was a mistake. Whereas night markets are famous for the variety of foods available in them, they are themselves remarkably similar. An additional problem for me was that I myself am no great lover of the places. Consequently, reading 10 tales each of which has an obligatory night market somewhere in its structure fairly quickly became wearisome. Writers are naturally different one from another, so why restrict this natural variety by imposing a compulsory motif?

I got the distinct feeling reading this collection that some of the authors were annoyed at this condition being imposed on them, and included a night market only out of a sense of obligation. Indeed, it almost became a rule that the better the story, the less important was the night market within it.

This was certainly true of the first item, a masterly tale by newcomer Katannya Jantzen. It’s set on Kinmen during the most serious confrontations with Beijing during the 1950s. A rumor goes around that a new plan is afoot to reward the military stationed on the island, and this turns out to be licensed prostitution. What’s so brilliant about this story is that it’s narrated by a very young girl who observes what’s happening but doesn’t understand it. As such, it’s reminiscent of L.P. Hartley’s classic novel The Go-Between. But this new tale, showing adult affairs seen through the eyes of innocence, is indeed excellent in its own right.

Publication Notes

Night Market: An Anthology

By Taipei Writers Group


TWG Press

Softback: Taiwan

Next comes At the Shadow’s Edge by the experienced UK writer J.J. Green. It’s set in modern times and concerns a pathologist who’s conducting an autopsy on a teenage orphan, a boy who appears to have died from a heart attack. But the female doctor can find none of the usual physical signs of this, and goes in search of the boy’s family to investigate the background. The result is a humane and realistic tale, and a night market scarcely features in it.

CK Hugo Chung’s The Ground Beneath tells the story of a Taiwanese eldest son, happy to carry his burden of responsibility, and his younger brother who appears determined to live a gay life divested of any family connection. This younger brother, however, is killed in a road accident in Tamsui, but text messages from him continue to arrive on his brother’s cellphone. A necromancer advises that only through the most solemn sacrifice can he be brought back from the dead. As usual with this writer, the prose is sharp and up-to-date, like the phone texts themselves. And indeed the cellphone almost assumes the role of one of the characters.

Newcomer Jeremy A. TeGrotenhuis contributes a story set in a fantasy world. An alchemist is asked to prepare a potion that will help someone who claims to have fallen out of love with his wife. After considering concoctions that include a cherubim’s remains, he strikes a lucrative deal by selling the customer a liquid of which the main ingredients are the ashes of papers bearing the man’s and his wife’s names. It would be a pity to divulge the outcome, but this story is certainly one of the more successful in which a night market plays a prominent part, and displays a sophisticated intelligence.

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