The man with the compound eyes by Wu Ming-Yi

man with the compound eyes

The man with the compound eyes by Wu Ming-YI

Taiwanese fiction

Translator – Darreyl Sterk

Original title –   複眼人

Source Review copy

I was pleased to get this as I’ve not read a book from Taiwan before so always love finding out about new cultures and writers .Wu Ming-Yi is a writer and artist ,he studied Marketing and Chinese literature at university .He has written both fiction and non fiction titles ,he has written a number of non fiction titles on butterflies .This is his first Novel to be translated to English.

The people of Wayo Wayo thought the whole world was but a single island .The island situated in the midst of an immense ocean , far from any continent .As far as island memory reached ,the white man had once visited the island ,but nobody had ever left and brought back news of another land .

Atile’i island home is very isolated .

Now I am not a big reader of speculative fiction ,so the style of this book was unusual to me .It is set in a near future as a toxic disaster ,caused by to much rubbish has lead to strange occurrences in the oceans of the world  has hit the worlds oceans .In Taiwan Alice ,she is a professor has recently lost not just her husband but also her son .Finds a man who has been brought in on the tide of rubbish and junk that arrive on the seafront by her house .This man is Atile’i he has just come of age in his culture turned 15 and was as the second son of his family ,he has to leave his island home of Wayo Wayo  and has wound up in Taiwan .These two then set out to become friends struggling to get to know one another at the start but slowly getting there .Atile’i sets out with Alice to follow what happened to her husband and her son by following a trail on a mountain they took  her husband had taken before he died .

Alice wanted to grieve for the victims but couldn’t feel anything .Over the last ten years ,there had been more and more earthquakes and floods .

Alice had seen a lot through her eyes and in her life .

This book is quite unique Wu Ming-Yi has a  unusual voice ,this book at its heart is a plea to us all to take better care of our planet .I read a piece about how it came to us in English because his publicist really pushed it and a book mentioned that was similar to it was Life of pi and I loved life of pi ,yes this book has that unreal world feel Atie’i feels like he is from another place his ,a different culture he had to leave his island as a sacrifice to the sea good ,but as the strongest of his friends in sailing and swimming just managed to survive .He remind me in a lot of ways of Pi from life of Pi .Alice was a women in despair when she found him ,This is so much a story about love ,loss not just in a personnel sense but also on a global scale ,the disaster that features in the book ,is a warning to us all .I was also reminded of footage of rubbish from the tsunami that has been up around the pacific actually shows how interconnect we all are  .Also music plays a part although they struggle to get along the two are drawn together over time by music .A  must read for readers that like something of different from the usual European fiction .I must admit the cover is also my favourite cover of 2013 

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Sep 02, 2013 @ 18:24:53

    The cover *is* lovely and the book sounds excellent Stu!


  2. Travellin' Penguin
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 00:37:04

    The first thing I noticed when I opened this post was the cover of the book. It is an extremely interesting cover and what an interesting sounding book. I also liked Life of Pi and this does sound like it is in that genre. Great review of an interesting book.


  3. Brian Joseph
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 09:29:32

    This one sounds great Stu. I tend to really like this kind of storytelling. Tales of unusual occurrences as well as natural and unnatural disasters tend to draw me in.

    Relating to the whole thing about the ocean’s, the description reminds me a little of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.


  4. Tony
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 11:12:43

    Sounds interesting enough, and I’ve never read anything from Taiwan either…


  5. Caroline
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 07:07:02

    I don’t think I’ve ever read any Taiwanese authors. It sounds really good.


  6. gaskella
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 15:24:20

    Definitely going onto my wishlist, and I love the cover too.


  7. Danny Dan Daniel (@leinadmoolb)
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 02:03:05

    This is the new LIFE OF PI, a cli fi novel from Taiwan to the world, will put Taiwan writers on the map in a new way, separate from Communist Chinese writers. This book is the future. see profile interview with Wu in the Taipei Times newspaper in English, google search it “taipei times + Wu Ming-yi + dan bloom”


  8. Danny Dan Daniel (@leinadmoolb)
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 03:55:17

    Book review: The Man with the Compound Eyes
    By Dan Bloom / Contributing reporter

    The Man with the Compound Eyes, by Wu Ming-yi.Back in 2009, the New York Times published an article headlined “Recyclers, Scientists Probe Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” which noted that a group of scientists had “set sail from San Francisco Bay … to study the planet’s largest known floating garbage dump, about 1,000 miles north of Hawaii.”

    Fast forward to 2013: Taiwanese nature writer Wu Ming-yi (吳明益) has just released an English translation of his The Man with the Compound Eyes (複眼人) that’s aimed at an international readership. The 300-page novel, which has an eye-catching cover for the new British edition, is about that same floating dump.

    Wu started writing the novel in 2006 when he read about the floating trash vortex in Chinese-language newspapers. As novelists often do, he concocted a “vision” based on the vortex: An Aboriginal teenager from the imaginary island of Wayo Wayo rides this garbage island and washes up with it one day on the east coast of Taiwan. In the ensuing chaos, the Taiwanese print and TV media have a field day reporting this ecological calamity, and Taiwan — the story is set in the near future of 2020 — is never the same.

    In many ways, The Man with the Compound Eyes is a Pacific novel, about a Pacific Islander identity that differs in many ways from the commonplace Han Chinese-centric novels that are published in Taiwan.

    The novel stars the boy from Wayo Wayo and a middle-aged Taiwanese college professor named Alice, both of whom are thrown into Taiwan’s east coast wilderness in a search for some lost hikers — and enlightenment. There’s a cast of characters that expats will know well from their travels along the east coast, and Wu plots the story in very Taiwanese terms. (The English translation by Canadian expat Darryl Sterk, a professor at National Taiwan University, is superb and sensitively captures the nuances of Taiwan’s Aboriginal cultures and languages.)

    Publication Notes
    The Man with the Compound Eyes

    By Wu Ming-yi

    300 pages

    Harvill Secker

    Paperback: UK

    Wu’s rollercoaster of a story is about wilderness, wildness, wonderment, love. It’s also about “massage parlors” along the east coast where tired and drunk soldiers go for rest and relaxation, with mini-lessons thrown in about various aspects of Aboriginal culture and food.

    For readers in Taiwan who have been here for a number of years and know the east coast well, Wu’s novel is sure to strike a chord. But just how this Pacific novel will do overseas with readers in Europe and North America who know little about Taiwan or the Aboriginal cultures here remains to be seen.

    As a longtime expat in Taiwan, I read the novel as a critique of modern society’s disregard for our planet’s ecology and environment — a wake-up call, in other words, for Taiwan and the rest of the world.

    Readers overseas might find Wu’s story merely a pleasant diversion from the daily grind. You may not have to know much about Taiwan or insect eye biology to enjoy The Man with the Compound Eyes, and the mid-book chapters about that reveal the mystery behind the man with the compound eyes are perhaps the best writing to ever come out of a Taiwan novel. Some readers have drawn comparisons between the novel and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Yes, it’s that kind of book, and it would make that kind of movie, too.

    Wu’s work began its literary life as a mostly-neglected, unheralded Chinese-language novel in 2011. Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture and the National Museum of Taiwan Literature (國立台灣文學館) used their resources and contacts to help set the book on its way to translation and overseas publication.

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September 2013


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