Traveling to Taiwan: What I Read

Part of what motivated me to apply for the Fulbright grant to Taiwan was the country’s rich literary tradition. Reading the work of Taiwanese and Taiwanese-American writers granted essential insight into the country’s culture and history as I worked on my application. Now, as I prepare to begin my grant and live in Taiwan, I want to share with you what I read.

Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan

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Photo from Good Reads

I best understand and absorb history through narratives. Ryan’s characters take the reader through over five decades of Taiwanese history, from Japanese colonial rule to the era of martial law to the country’s present-day democracy. Focusing on a doctor imprisoned for political opposition and his daughter who later immigrates to the United States, Green Island creates a story that is both informatively historical and deeply emotional.

Orphan of Asia by Zhuoliu Wu

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Photo from Columbia University Press

Another example of Taiwanese history told through fiction, the protagonist of this semi-autobiographical novel finds himself struggling with an identity crisis unique to postwar Taiwan. He is both entangled in and estranged from Japanese, Chinese, and Taiwanese culture, and cannot find where exactly he belongs. Orphan of Asia is considered a classic of modern Asian literature and Zhuoliu Wu one of Taiwan’s most important writers.

Taiwan’s Struggle: Voices of the Taiwanese, edited by Shyu-Tu Lee & Jack F. Williams

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Photo from Amazon.com

The best way to understand a nation is to listen to people living in it. Unfortunately, much of the English-language commentary on modern Taiwan is written by outside observers. That’s why Taiwan’s Struggle was vital for me in understanding modern Taiwanese politics. Covering societal identity, international status, and economic and environmental issues, this book offers a broad portrait of Taiwan painted by the Taiwanese themselves.

Currently Reading

The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi

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Photo from Good Reads

I didn’t read this book during the application process because the English translation was not yet available. Now I’m halfway through and enjoying the story of one man searching for his missing father’s stolen bicycle, a mystery that involves Taiwan’s antique bicycle collectors, butterfly handicraft makers, jungle military operations, and the world’s oldest elephant (I’m not yet to the part with the elephant, but I’m intrigued). Longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, The Stolen Bicycle is a unique look into Taiwan and its culture.

To Read

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

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Photo from Amazon.com

I saw this Young Adult novel mentioned several times on Twitter before I realized it was set in Taiwan. In The Astonishing Color of After, American teenager Leigh Chen Sanders travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents after the death of her mother. Oh, and Sanders is convinced that when her mother died, she turned into a bird. I currently have this book reserved at the library and intend to read it this summer before I begin my grant.

BONUS: What I Watched

A Brighter Summer Day and Yi Yi by Edward Yang

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A Brighter Summer Day, Photo from Amazon.com

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Yi Yi, Photo from bigother.com

Taiwan’s impressive cultural output is not limited to literature. Movie fanatics consider director Edward Yang to be not only essential viewing for Taiwanese cinema but for film history in general. I watched two of his most well-known films, A Brighter Summer Day and Yi Yi, while working on my application. While both movies are quite an undertaking (Yi Yi is 173 minutes long; Day is almost 4 hours), Yang artfully captures the beauty and drama of his nation through the everyday struggles and cataclysmic conflicts of his characters.

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