There are some cities that lend themselves to darkness and intrigue. Macau is one of these places. First settled by refugees fleeing the Mongol invasion in northern China, it became a fishing village and later a haven for pirates. The Portuguese arrived in the 1500s and built a slice of the baroque Mediterranean in South China. It was returned to China in 1999 and today it’s the gambling capital of the world.
When a work of non-fiction opens with “On the last day of his old life, the dinosaur hunter went to the beach,” it’s a strong hint that tragedy is in store.
Yan Ge’s The Chilli Bean Paste Clan should come with a warning on the cover: “contents may cause readers to break into a sweat and consume unhealthy amounts of Laoganma spicy chilli crisp.” The setting for this complicated and often humorous story of the Duan-Xue clan, a family consumed by resentments, betrayals, matriarchal machinations, and sibling rivalry, is Pingle, a small town in Sichuan province, which the author tells us in the foreword is essentially the town she grew up in.
In the summer of 1792, the Qianlong Emperor was confronted with a uniquely Tibetan Buddhist problem: Qing authorities had discovered the Eighth Dalai Lama, Seventh Panchen Lama, the Fourth Jetsundamba, several other prominent reincarnate lineages, and a distinguished Tibetan statesman, were embedded in a web of kinship ties. “… How is it possible that the reincarnations of all the major kutuktus of Tibet have come to appear only in the noble households?” he remarked in a letter to one of his most trusted generals.
Chi Zijian’s novel The Last Quarter of the Moon was set among the Evenki reindeer-herders in remotest Heilongjiang. Her latest novel in English translation, Goodnight, Rose, has as its center the relationship between a Chinese country girl making her way in Harbin and an elderly Jewish woman who arrived, as did many, after the Russian revolution. Chi herself seems fascinated by the interaction between peoples and societies; her novels can transcend nationality and culture.
“I saw my first dead body on November 9, 2013. He was five. He was lying in the rubble of a demolished church that had entombed eight of its faithful in Tacloban City, the ville-martyr of this impoverished region in the Philippines where a violent typhoon had hit only a day before.”
As a place that doesn’t fit any of the world’s standard pigeon-holes, it seems fitting that Taiwan would have an unconventional book such as Formosa Moon written about it. Not a travelogue nor a memoir but both, Formosa Moon is about what happens after Joshua Samuel Brown, a longtime Taiwan expat moving back from the US, brings his girlfriend Stephanie Huffman to Taiwan for the first time.