Thu, May 09, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Book Review: White Terror gets literary treatment

This book of short stories illustrates the range of suffering many experienced during this dark period of the nation’s history

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

Twenty years later the young boy, now adult and living in Taipei, is accused of murder, while the former fugitive is a senior figure in the prosecutor’s office. It’s possible he could save the accused’s life but he doesn’t, and the man, who was once responsible for saving him, is executed.

The last story, “A Letter from Father,” is extremely short. It simply consists of a letter from an imprisoned father to his daughter. He compares her and her mother to the trees he can see out of his dormitory window, and hopes they will flourish and his daughter grow up straight and strong.

The date is given as March 28, 1982, and an appended note states that it was “inspired by a letter of Tsai Yi-Cheng, who had been incarcerated for 24 years, because of his involvement with underground political activities.”

These stories certainly demonstrate the range of those who suffered under Taiwan’s White Terror, the harsh targeting of perceived political dissidents usually dated as lasting from 1947 to 1987. They also show how different people were affected in different ways, some directly by imprisonment and not infrequently death, others by being their relatives, others involved towards the end of the period in protests that led to less traumatic results.

What characterizes these tales is the absence of scenes of violence. There is none of the brutal assault, including murder and torture, that the White Terror regime was responsible for. Instead, we see the effects of such horrors on other people, with the implication that the atmosphere of repression was pervasive and left few Taiwanese citizens untouched.

Assuming that this was the author’s intention, then the perspective is finely managed, and the comprehensive point well made. And the inclusion of minorities — an Aborigine, a gay and a foreigner — certainly emphasizes the book’s range.

I enjoyed these stories. They may not be great masterpieces, but they have variety and an underlying seriousness of purpose, both features of the best fiction.

Serenity International is a publisher of Taiwanese and other literature, with offices in Taipei and a business registration in Nipomo, California.

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