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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Man with the Compound Eyes (2014) by Wu Ming-Yi

Book review
The Man with the Compound Eyes (2014)
by Wu Ming-Yi

      What about contemporary literature?  I'm getting there.  A notable absence from the 1001 Books list is anything originally written in Chinese.  The Man with the Compound Eyes was Yi's first work of fiction translated into English, but he's been writing fiction and non-fiction in Chinese for fifteen years.   Yi is from Taiwan, and The Man with the Compound Eyes is memorably set on the East coast of Taiwan, a region little known in the West.  Eastern coastal Taiwan is populated by a mix of Taiwanaiese born Han Chinese and different Taiwanese aboriginal peoples.  Specifically, the Amis and Bunun both figure prominently.

   Located someplace between Latin American style magical realism and futuristic speculative fiction, the plot combines intercultural romance, the disastrous consequences of climate change on coastal communities and the great "trash vortex" in the Pacific ocean.  The translation by Darryl Sterk does an excellent job of maintaining the idiomatic characteristics of Yi's text.

   The heart of The Man with the Compound Eyes, like great many novels, tells the story human emotions in some interesting place.  The eastern coast of Taiwan is interesting as a setting, as are the various speculative/science fiction/magical realism touches.  It all combines in memorable fashion.

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