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Wu Ming-yi: Rediscovering the Curiosity About the World (Part 2)

By Quek See Ling
Continued from Wu Ming-yi: Rediscovering the Curiosity About the World (Part 1)

Wu Ming-yi’s novel, The Stolen Bicycle, had garnered rave reviews since it was published in 2015. The reason why the novel started off with the bicycle was a response to the readers’ query after reading the end of his other novel, Routes in a Dream, where the fate of the protagonist’s bicycle was unaccounted for after he was halted by his father in front of Zhongshan Hall. From there, the bicycle had spun to Wu’s latest novel which touched on the histories of World War Two and Taiwan, development of the bicycle, zoological garden, and butterfly art, among others.

The Cyclist with Compound Eyes

wu-mingyi-the_bicycleWu did not speak to his father for 10 years after the latter disagreed with his decision to be a writer. After his father had passed away, the heartbroken Wu recalled how his father would refuse to share the details of his Second World War’s experience as a 13-year-old forced to go to Japan to make fighter jets. Therefore, The Stolen Bicycle featured the Malay Peninsula campaign of the Japanese army’s bicycle infantry as its backdrop. The infantry, who were trained in Taiwan, overran the Malay Peninsula within a month and captured Singapore from the British in just two days. The Japanese infantry’s bicycles did not have rubber tyres installed as they would puncture easily, and the resulting noise from the metal rims riding on the roads made the British mistake them as tanks. Besides writing about people and bicycle, the novel also focused on the stories of animals. It was not just the human beings who had suffered in times of war, animals were victims too but the latter’s predicament would often be forgotten.

Wu-Mingyi-bookThe background for Wu’s other famous novel, The Man with Compound Eyes, was set in Taiwan’s Hualien County. Using the indigenous people as the subject, Wu was hoping to raise the awareness to the “Trash Vortex”, an island of garbage drifting in the Pacific Ocean, through the eyes of the people living on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. As an environmental activist who is supportive of multiculturalism, Wu made special mention of the matriarchal society of the Amis tribe in his talk and highlighted their peaceful coexistence with the natural world like their sowing season festival to invite the insects to leave, instead of exterminating them, and sharing of the harvest with those insects.

In spite of his long writing career, Wu often felt a lack of self-confidence until The Man with Compound Eyes started receiving international accolades. Wu’s novel was not only translated to many languages, it was also selected as one of the only two Chinese stories in Literary Wonderlands: A Journey Through the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created, which is scheduled for publication in November 2016. The other Chinese story is the classic Journey to the West.

Wu ended his talk with the assertion that there would be many more readers if he were to stay in Malaysia for one to three years. In the thunderous applause that followed, I saw a world-class writer who is full of passion, sincerity and talent rising up, and just like the protagonists in Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez’s Time Passes Like Water, he used writing as his boat and oars, broke through the lamp of reality and paddled out through the window in pursuit of light.

About Wu Ming-yi

Wu MingyiWu Ming-yi, born in 1971, is a multi-disciplinary Taiwanese writer, academic and environmental activist. Holding a PhD in Chinese Literature from National Central University, Wu is a professor at National Dong Hwa University’s Department of Sinophone Literatures. Wu’s famous novels include The Stolen Bicycle, The Man with Compound Eyes, and The Magician on the Skywalk. Wu was awarded the Third United Daily News Literature Prize in 2016. Furthermore, the English and French rights of The Man with Compound Eyes had been bought by overseas publishers, making Wu the first Taiwanese novelist to do so. In fact, the French version had also been awarded the Salon d’Ouessant’s International Island Literature Fiction Award for 2015. Wu’s other notable literary works like The Book of Lost Butterflies and Above Flame, had also won multiple prizes. Wu has also published many Taiwan’s nature-related writings to date.

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