“A massacre involves a fundamental betrayal of life by life itself”: searing experimental novel by the pseudonymous Taiwanese writer Wu He.
Wu He the writer—the name means Dancing Crane—and Wu He the character and narrator are not quite one and the same, though this novel, originally published in Chinese in 1999, recounts events in the author’s real life. Following modest success as a writer of short stories and literary novels, Chen Guocheng took up a historical and anthropological investigation of an event that Taiwan had long forgotten: the massacre of hundreds of members of Taiwan’s Atayal tribe by Japanese colonial police and soldiers nearly 90 years ago. Now called Wu He, Chen ascends into the country of the Atayal to explore what happens to a people brought nearly to extinction by an act of genocide. In an onrushing, stream-of-consciousness narrative that takes a single paragraph over the length of nearly 300 pages, Wu He answers that question, drawing on the voices of native people known simply by names such as Elder, Cousin, and Girl. The people are suspicious: what, they wonder, is a stranger doing poking around in their past? “There’s a hell of a lot to research when it comes to you Han Chinese,” says one bluntly, “why don’t you go home and research yourselves?” It’s a good question, one that doesn’t deter Wu He, who tucks into the indigenous fare of flying squirrel stew and the like and, as the anthropological saying has it, goes native—though not quite as native as Cousin might like, for she encourages him to chuck it all and head deeper into the mountains to become one of them and “lose yourself for the rest of your life!” In the end, the anthropologist becomes as much an object of study as the people he is researching, with all sorts of implications.
A brilliant but immensely challenging work, of great interest to students of contemporary Asian fiction—and of the literature of atrocity and remembrance as well.