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
I met Zhu Zhu for the first time two years ago when he came to the US for a joint residency with me in Vermont. We established our trust over a long trans-Pacific phone call that lasted an entire night. Then it dawned on us that such trust could be extended to a book. Since then, I have read every poem he has written and selected with him a collection that encapsulates what this distinguished poet has achieved in the past decade.
This past decade has seen a Chinese economic boom, and many poets have abandoned poetry for lucrative businesses. Zhu Zhu took to the arts and makes a living by writing art criticism and curating art exhibitions in China and overseas. He has made a name for himself in the new field. It was the literariness of his words that first drew attention from a group of well-known artists. His art criticism does not distract Zhu Zhu from his poetry, however. Instead, it heightens his sensibility to the diverse emotional modes of expression inherent in artistic composition.
Though revered in poetry circles, Zhu Zhu remains on the periphery and his work in the art world gives him certain advantages in keeping his distance from the occasional riots within poetry circles. Zhu Zhu writes quietly. His paced poems weave slowly through personal and larger histories. The poems do not surprise for surprise’s sake; rather, they give the reader a painterly view at each and every turn. His smooth lines unfold like a scroll of painting and accrue meaning. Zhu Zhu’s poetry illuminates and sets the reader adrift in meditations, yet the poems are sharp as crystals that cut into the interiority of the mind.
– Dong Li
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
Not long ago, a few poems surfaced from the Dun Huang archives–five short poems that are attributed to Xuanzang. Prior to the rediscovery of these poems, Xuanzang’s literary reputation primarily rested on his status as a hero of legend in the pages of Journey to the West, where his pilgrimage to India provides the narrative thread for Wu Cheng En’s great epic tale. Xuanzang has also been highly regarded as an author in his own right. In the seventh-century travel narrative entitled The Great Tang Record of the Western Territories, he provides a no less remarkable account of his journey traversing countless mountain passes, encountering peoples of more than a hundred different tribal nations, finding holy scriptures, and visiting stupas that glowed with mysterious light all along the way.
The rediscovery of these five poems rounds out our picture of Xuanzang as a poet, too. We now can understand Xuanzang’s journey as real, legendary, and metaphorical all at the same time, an inner and outer voyage for enlightenment that’s fully described in these lines.
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 Adventures of Monkey King” comprises the first seven chapters of Journey to the West, the great epic of pre-modern China. The book was first published anonymously in the late 16th century during the waning years of the Ming Dynasty, but the story of Monkey is based on folk legend and a much older oral tradition. Wu Cheng En, a poet who published during his lifetime under the pen name “She Yang Hermit,” is generally credited as the author.
Since the 1980s, Yi Lu has established herself as one of the most widely-read female poets in contemporary China. Born in 1956, she has authored four books of poetry, including the award-winning titles See (2004) and Using Two Seas (2009). Known for an elegant and distilled lyrical voice, her poems are at once meditative and vibrant. Recent national honors include the Hundred Flowers Award and the Distinguished Literary Prize from the Fujian Province. Serving as an active theatre design artist at the People’s Art Theatre in Fujian, Yi Lu is also ranked as China’s preeminent national scenographer and stage designer.
Bai Hua is considered to be the central literary figure of the post-Misty Poetry movement during the 1980s. Born in 1956 in Chongqing, he read English literature at Guangzhou Foreign Language Institute before graduating with a master’s degree in Western literary history from Sichuan University. His first collection of poems, Expression (1988), found immediate critical acclaim. A highly demanding writer, Bai Hua has a small but selective poetic output: in the past thirty years he’s written approximately ninety poems, most of which command a large audience in his nation today. After a silence of more than a decade, he began writing poetry again in 2007. That same year, his work garnered the prestigious Rougang Poetry Award. A prolific writer of critical prose and hybrid texts, Bai Hua is also a recipient of the Anne Kao Poetry Prize. Currently living in Chengdu, Sichuan, he teaches at the Southwestern Transportation University.
Award-winning poet Lan Lan is one of China’s most well-loved female writers today. Her lyrical writings contain a sensual yet profound simplicity that often explores a specific emotion both in its purity and complexity. Considered one of the few contemporary women poets who’ve invented a new genre of romance poetry, she transcends the sentimental via a poetic imagination of dialogues between emotions, energies, and specific moments. Also known for their intriguing observations of nature and social realities, each of Lan Lan’s poems are crafted in a specific architecture–both linguistic and temporal–that either dramatizes or challenges the contextual significance of the work. In addition to her poetry, Lan Lan’s bestselling work includes children’s literature and lyrical prose. Here we present a sampling of five poems–“Inside Eternity…,” “Vérité,” “Wind,” “Wild Sunflowers,” and “Untitled”–from Selected Works of Lan Lan, published in honor of her literary prize, the Poetry & People Award in 2009.
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).