Based on the experiences of Luo Yijun’s immediate and extended families in Taiwan and China, Moon Descendants relates a story spanning four generations. A large part of the narrative pivots on Luo’s father, who joined hundreds of thousands of Chinese men in fleeing China to Taiwan after the Nationalist Party’s defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. What seemed to be a temporary retreat became a permanent exile, with a ban on traveling between China and Taiwan in place for the following half-century.
As in most writings of exile, memories play a significant role in Moon Descendants. How do memories intervene in an estranged life? How do memories construct time and how does time change memory? In Moon Descendants, narrative time is shuffled by the memories not only of Luo’s father but also of the author-narrator and other characters. The chapters are arranged as if they were a hand of playing cards. According to Luo, the conception of the story came from the imaginative practice of freezing time in fiction, i.e. stopping the time of a decisive moment, prying open the seam of the suspended time, and wriggling into an elaborate, spectacle-filled instant. In this way, Luo presents remembrances as different clocks of the narrative present, turned on and off by memories. These clocks make the time they mark circular like clock faces (as another part of the story portrays). The circular times sometimes intersect with one another, forming overlapping portions that, far from being in sync, trap the narrative present in conflicting arcs and movements of the past.
The translated excerpt is the sixteenth of the novel’s twenty-one chapters, a self-contained piece titled “The Flood” that explores the twists and turns behind the union of the narrator’s parents, with his mother coming from a lineage of adoptive daughters and his father leaving behind a wife in China. In the second half of the excerpt, these two lines of development merge—or submerge—in a flood caused by one of the biggest typhoons to hit Taiwan. Inundating the whole of Taipei and turning streets and alleys into waterways, the flood creates a transient world for the family’s history to rise to the surface of the water. Its effect is not so much to straighten things up as it is to flatten time momentarily and break down the border between past and present.
– Elaine Wong
Born and raised in Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan, Amang ( 阿芒 ) is the author of two volumes of verse: On/Off: Selected Poems of Amang, 1995—2002 (2003) and No Daddy (2008). Her work has appeared in various print and online journals. An avid blogger and mountaineer, Amang makes video documentaries and video poetry. Her bilingual collection, Chariots of Women (translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain) is forthcoming from Fembooks in Taipei.
The acclaimed Taiwanese writer Chen Li is best known for his poetry, and is regarded as one of the most innovative and exciting poets writing in Chinese today. Less known, however, is the fact that he is also a prolific essayist, and has published seven collections of essays in addition to his fourteen books of poetry. Although his poems have been translated into English and some other languages, his essays are largely unknown to non-Chinese readers. His essays—both lyric and personal—exude no less elegant and artful poetics than his poetry. In Voice Clocks, his exquisite and tantalizing essay that was selected to be included in the standard textbook for junior high school students across Taiwan, the fluidity and musicality of his language—accessible, effortless, yet enchanting—is on full display. He’s a master at capturing and distilling the poetic grace from the most mundane aspects of everyday life. As Chen Li once observed, “Any time you look at something from a different perspective, you will see it in a whole new light.” Reading his writing, this essay in particular, one can’t help taking another look at the inevitable earthly tedium of our existence through his imaginative lens, and savoring its innate beauty. Hualien, Chen Li’s beloved hometown on the mountainous east coast of Taiwan, has been the central locale of his writing. His deep love and pride for his native land, as reflected in this piece, are palpable. The main challenge, as well as joy, of translating this essay was to seek to render its incredible euphony into English while at the same time retaining the rich flavors of Taiwanese culture.
– Ting Wang
Notes of a Crocodile (1994) is a coming-of-age novel and a cult classic of queer literature by the late Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin. Set at one of the nation’s most elite universities in cosmopolitan Taipei in the late 1980s, it tells the story of a burgeoning romance between two female students. Sardonic, honest, and painful, the novel takes the ostensible form of a series of journals written by one of the young women–the masculine, defiant Lazi–as she recounts the struggle to realize selfhood and reconcile her deeply taboo desires under the watchful gaze of an authoritarian society.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).