Book review of Wu Ming-Yi’s “The Stolen Bicycle” published by Mascara Literary Review (@mascarareview @textpublishing #Taiwan)


I am pleased to share with you that my review of Taiwanese novelist Wu Ming-Yi’s The Stolen Bicycle (Text Publishing, 2017) was published by Mascara Literary Review. The theme of Issue 22 (June 2018) is China Transnational. You can read my book review HERE.

Having learned that Wu and Darryl Sterk, translator of The Stolen Bicycle, were coming to the 2017 Melbourne Writers Festival, I attended not only a session featuring the book but also a translation workshop at the University of Melbourne. Both events were awesome — Wu and Sterk are obviously a good team, sharing a passion for nature and literature and an endearing sense of humour. It is great to hear Wu speaking, a humble scholar and environmentalist who cares so much about his homeland Taiwan and its unique identity. I also appreciate the opportunity to chat with Sterk, about his experiences and insight as a translator and also an expert in Taiwan’s indigenous languages.

I read The Stolen Bicycle in both Traditional Chinese and English. From time to time I found myself considering a different approach to translating certain words and phrases, but I was grateful to have had an opportunity to discuss with Sterk why he translated the book the way he did. I briefly mentioned a lesson he taught me, that apart from the author and the translator, also worth noting is the role of the editor:

“In the great majority of cases, [the editor] is the one who gets to decide whether a translation is ‘good’ enough, purely for the purpose of satisfying the readers. While a translator should always remain faithful to the source text, an editor is more like a PR manager who needs to take into consideration such issues as relevance, marketability and political correctness. Hence it is not uncommon that a translation is modified in ways that an editor deems to be appropriate.”

As for the other factors that could either “make” or “break” a book, I have to mention the recent controversy when The Stolen Bicycle was long-listed for this year’s Man Booker International Prize. On April 3, The Guardian reported that due to pressure from Beijing, organisers of the prize changed Wu’s nationality from “Taiwan” to “Taiwan, China”. I am proud to have participated in a fierce online campaign urging them to reverse their decision, and on April 4, it was reported that the prestigious literary prize announced “it will no longer list authors by nationality, but by country or territory”. Hence Wu is now known as a Taiwanese author as it is and should always be.

Born and raised in Taiwan, I was more saddened than upset by this incident. Particularly because The Stolen Bicycle is all about Taiwan’s identity, how the people and especially the Indigenous Taiwanese perceive their land, their life and their destiny. The book accuses no one; nor does it try to proclaim or protest against any sort of political correctness, whatever that means. Instead, it documents, in a unique way that only fiction can manage, a people’s search for peace in an increasingly violent and chaotic world. Indeed, our world has changed so much in the past two decades that even simple pursuits of peace can be hijacked, turned into political tools and used to facilitate one’s ambition for domination. It seems to have become a world where only the loudest, the richest and the most forceful get heard.

Well, it is not my intention here to submit to pessimism. It is just that sometimes, only sometimes, things do “get” you one way or another… Please, enjoy my review of Wu Ming-YI’s The Stolen Bicycle. It is truly a great book.


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