Mon, Dec 17, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Celebrating literary achievement

This year’s Taiwan Literature Awards recipients provide a glimpse into the national psyche

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

From left to right, Best Hakka Prose winner Hsieh Chin-hsiu, Best Script winner Feng Yi-kang and Best Aboriginal Prose in Mandarin winner Yu Yi-te receive their awards on Dec. 8 at the ceremony in Tainan.

Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Taiwan Literature

If great literature captures the passions and obsessions of a society, then the winning works at this year’s Taiwan Literature Awards (台灣文學獎) artfully articulate the country’s fixation with its political future and national identity.

Lin Chun-ying’s (林俊穎) Formosa Heat (猛暑) was published at the peak of summer in August last year. On Dec. 8, it received the top honor of Best Novel at the awards ceremony organized and hosted by the National Museum of Taiwan Literature (國立臺灣文學館) in Tainan.

Formosa Heat, Lin’s second novel, is narrated by an island-dweller who has spent two decades in a deep slumber. He awakes to discover that his country has become a colony bearing little resemblance to the home of his youth, and must acclimatize to this new reality while learning what transpired on the island in the intervening years.

Lin conjures a mood of displacement through formal innovations. Chapters read more like a string of vignettes than the steady march of a plot, and he intersperses the action with letters from the narrator’s niece that reveal their family background.

The National Museum of Taiwan Literature has described Formosa Heat as a work of “heterotopia” — the novel constructs a setting where we can recognize distorted parts of the world that we actually inhabit. In other words, the island nation in Formosa Heat, which is not named Formosa in the novel, is an allusion to Taiwan.

With Lin using literary proxies for China (東強國 or “Strong Country of the East”), the US (西強國 or “Strong Country of the West”) and Japan (扶桑島 or Fusang Island, a mythical place name found in ancient Chinese literature) and describing an island nation afflicted by abdicating leaders and apathetic citizens, the novel is steeped in anxiety about Taiwan’s place in the world and in history. This puts it alongside past Best Novel recipients, including Puppet Flower (傀儡花) by Chen Yao-chang (陳耀昌) in 2016 and The Stolen Bicycle (單車失竊記) by Wu Ming-yi (吳明益) in 2015.

Themes of personal and national identity and the passage of time were also found in this year’s other winning works, including Best Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) Prose winner Inside the Puyuma Express (佇普悠瑪列車內面) by Lu Mei-chin (呂美親), Best Hakka Prose winner Kodama (Kodama庄最尾正徙走個人家) by Hsieh Chin-hsiu (謝錦?) and Best Aboriginal Prose in Mandarin winner Yu A-hsiang (游阿香) by Yu Yi-te (游以德). Best Script went to crosstalk (相聲) master Feng Yi-kang (馮翊綱) for A Big Lie (謊然大誤).

While Lin turned to dystopian science fiction to examine the state of affairs in his homeland, Hsieh Wang-lin (謝旺霖) cast himself into the unknown and confronted the savage beauty of India for his introspective Walking the River (走河), which was awarded Best Prose. The collection of essays from Hsieh’s travels along the Ganges River is years in the making. It comes a decade after his first effort, Kora (轉山), about a solo bike journey from Yunnan to Tibet that Hsieh undertook with seed money from the Cloud Gate Culture and Arts Foundation Wanderer Project (雲門文化藝術基金會流浪者計畫).

For the first time in the awards’ 14-year history, this year’s Best Novel and Best Prose (alternating yearly with Best Poetry) were kept from the public until the awards ceremony on Dec. 8. In the face of a declining market for print publishing, this was an attempt by the organizers to drum up readers’ anticipation and extend the run for affiliated book promotions, in addition to giving the judges more time for deliberation.

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