Thu, Dec 28, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Year in Review: Books

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

Party Members by Arthur Meursault.

I reviewed 11 books, all Taiwan-related, this year, plus Alan Hollinghurst’s new and excellent UK-based novel The Sparshalt Affair. Of the 11, several stand out in the memory.

Camphor Press is currently dominating the Taiwan English-language book scene, following its acquisition of the rich backlist of Eastbridge Books in the UK, all Asia-related. The most extraordinary of these so far has been Party Members by Arthur Meursault (a pseudonym), a novel that’s savagely satirical of virtually every aspect of Chinese life (reviewed & March 2). I found it too harsh at the time, but now I find I can’t stop thinking about it.

Also from Camphor was a classic Korean novel, Everlasting Empire, about one day in that country’s court life 200 years ago. It’s hard going in places, but would undoubtedly be a major work in any country’s literature (reviewed Aug. 31). Murders and schemes to flee persecutors are only a half of it. If you want something solid to read over the New Year, this could well be it.

From Columbia University Press came a belated translation of Remains of Life by Wu He, an attempt by a well-known writer in Chinese to get to the truth of what happened in the notorious Wushe Incident (霧社事件) where many Japanese and others were killed by militant sections of the Aboriginal community (reviewed May 18).

On the eccentric margin was David Barton’s Lazar and Leper, a small picture-book with laconic texts in accompaniment about, well, you’ll have to make your mind up on that. Surrealism blends with the cartoon format in what is sometimes an indigestible mix from someone who’s been dubbed “Taiwan’s Samuel Beckett” but I consider more akin to William Burroughs (reviewed June 5).

Lastly, the most impressive book I’ve read on Chinese literature was Zhu Shoutong’s New Literature in Chinese (reviewed Jan. 19). Professor Zhu, who teaches at the University of Macau, argues for the inclusion of books written in Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore, as well as further afield, in a category that has often been taken to refer only to literature from China. His prose is suave and lucid, and his mind and sympathies clearly wide-ranging and humane. In the final analysis, this would be my number one choice for 2017.

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