Taiwan: Books

A Pail of Oysters

Vern Sneider

First published: New York Putnam (1953)

Republished: Camphor Press (2016)

Historical fiction, White Terror period

Vern Sneider’s A Pail of Oysters is the most important English-language novel ever written about Taiwan. Yet despite critical acclaim, this exciting and controversial book was long unavailable to readers.

Set against the political repression and poverty of the White Terror era, A Pail of Oysters tells the moving story of nineteen-year-old villager Li Liu and his quest to recover his family’s stolen kitchen god.

Li Liu’s fate becomes entwined with that of American journalist Ralph Barton, who, in trying to report honestly about KMT rule of the island, investigates the situation beyond the propaganda, learns of a massacre, and is drawn into the world of the Formosan underground.



Masked Dolls

Shih Chiung-yu

Balestier Press (2016)

Contemporary fiction

Past experiences shape who you are today. Memories cling like phantoms; vines that wrap around the body are vanquished only by death. Can humans exist without memories?

An Australian woman, burdened by the original sin of her Caucasian ancestors, and a Taiwanese woman, haunted by the memories of 100 years of conflict in her homeland, meet as backpackers while travelling in South Korea. As they live and travel together, two women in flight, one from the East and the other from the West, struggle to find a way out of their personal dilemmas.

Set against historical events that defined the 20th Century, Masked Dolls is a heartbreaking story of perennial conflicts that divide nations, genders and generations.



Green Island

Shawna Yang Ryan

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (2016)

Historical fiction, 1947 through to current day

Taipei, February 28, 1947: As an uprising rocks Taiwan, a young doctor is taken from his newborn daughter by Chinese Nationalists, on charges of speaking out against the government. Although he eventually returns to his family, his arrival is marked by alienation from his loved ones and paranoia among his community.

Years later, this troubled past follows his youngest daughter to America, where, as a mother and a wife, she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family—the same choice she witnessed her father make many years before.

A stunningly lyrical story of a family and a nation grappling with the nuances of complicity and survival, Green Island raises the question: how far would you go for the ones you love?



Formosan Odyssey

John Grant Ross

Camphor Press (2014)

Non-fiction travelogue

Formosan Odyssey captures the rich sweep of history through the eyes of Westerners who visited and lived in Taiwan — from missionaries, adventurers, lighthouse keepers, and Second World War PoWs, to students coming to study martial arts. It finishes with the story of Taiwan’s economic miracle, the political transition from police state to vibrant democracy, and its continuing stand-off with China.

The author’s travels, made around the island in the wake of the devastating 921 (September 21) of 1999 earthquake, and his experiences from five years of living in a small town, provide an intimate picture of modern Taiwan.

The island is a storehouse of Chinese and indigenous cultures, a fascinating mix of the new and the traditional, and likewise Formosan Odyssey is a smorgasbord of delights that both the general reader and any “old Asia hand” will find informative and amusing.

Out of print for a decade, treasured copies of this book have been passed around the expat community in Taiwan. Camphor Press is delighted to now be able to offer this gem to a wider audience.



The Stolen Bicycle

Wu Ming-Yi

The Text Publishing Company (2017)

Translated by Darryl Sterk

The Stolen Bicycle is both a majestic historical novel and a profound, startlingly intimate meditation on memory, family and home. The book was longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, gaining extra publicity when China attempted to strongarm the Man Group to list the author as from Taiwan, China, which they initially did, before rectifying the listing, according to the author’s wishes.

A writer embarks on an epic quest in search of his missing father’s stolen bicycle and soon finds himself caught up in the strangely intertwined stories of Lin Wang, the oldest elephant who ever lived, the soldiers who fought in the jungles of South-East Asia during the Second World War and the secret worlds of the butterfly handicraft makers and antique bicycle fanatics of Taiwan.

  • Longlisted, The Man Booker International Prize, 2018
  • Winner, Taiwan Literary Award, Taiwan, 2015
  • Winner, China Times Open Book Award (Six-time winner, including 2015), Taiwan
  • Winner, Eslite Bookseller Award for Author of The Year, Taiwan, 2015
  • Commended, Publishers Weekly International Hot Book Properties, 2015
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