The Hell Screens, Alvin Lu (Camphor Press, August 2019)
The Hell Screens, Alvin Lu (Camphor Press, August 2019)

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.

The backstory—as given in the publisher’s blurb—to this English-language debut seems itself worthy of at least a short story:

 

One of Taiwan’s most celebrated authors, Wang Ting-Kuo … began writing fiction when he was 18 and quickly took the literary world by storm, only to disappear from the literary scene when his soon-to-be father-in-law gave him a devastating ultimatum: either give up the precarious life of a writer or give up my daughter. Having made his fortune, Ting-Kuo returned with a vengeance with My Enemy’s Cherry Tree which has since won all of Taiwan’s major literary prizes. This novel marks his English-language debut.

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.

Formosa Moon, Joshua Samuel Brown, Stephanie Huffman (Things Asian Press, October 2018)
Formosa Moon, Joshua Samuel Brown, Stephanie Huffman (Things Asian Press, October 2018)

Formosa Moon is a romantic, geeky cultural journey around Taiwan undertaken by a couple comprised of a seasoned guidebook writer intimately familiar with Asia and a first-time visitor who agreed to relocate sight unseen. Join the couple on their journey of discovery through Formosa, “The Beautiful Island”.

In his foreword to this anthology, Jonathan Stalling eloquently describes how “Taiwan literature, like its complex writing systems, exists as a palimpsest of the cultural contact points, overlapping languages, peoples, and histories that have paved the way for one of the most vibrant literary scenes in the Sinosphere and the world beyond.” The aptness of this delightful description is borne out by what follows, namely 11 diverse, yet eminently readable, short stories and essays written between 1976 and 2013.