Cheng-Ming, a Taiwanese American, rummages through the used-book stalls and market bins of Taipei. His object is no ordinary one; he’s searching obsessively for accounts of ghosts and spirits, suicides and murders in a city plagued by a rapist-killer and less tangible forces. Cheng-Ming is an outsider trying to unmask both the fugitive criminal and the otherworld of spiritual forces that are inexorably taking control of the city. Things get complicated when the fetid island atmosphere begins to melt his contact lenses and his worsening sight paradoxically opens up the teeming world of ghosts and chimeras that surround him. Vengeful and anonymous spirits commandeer Cheng-Ming’s sight, so that he cannot distinguish past from present, himself from another. Images from modern and colonial Taiwan—an island of restless spirits—assail Cheng-Ming even as they captivate the reader.
The Hell Screens, written by Taiwanese-American writer Alvin Lu, was originally published in 2000, receiving positive reviews from the likes of The New York Review of Books.