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WWB Weekend: Afterlives of Taiwan’s Women Writers

By Susan Harris

If the current issue has you itching to add more Taiwanese writers to your Women in Translation Month reading list, we suggest you head into our archives to revisit the haunted narratives of two of this month’s contributors. 

In poet Hsia Yü’s “Soul,” a crowd of people in a darkened room, perhaps awaiting the start of a movie, sense the spirit of a woman long dead. She directs them to turn on a projector and appears ghostlike in the illuminated spot. “So bewitched we quite forgot to ask her what the afterlife was like,” the uneasy group watches while the apparition melts away. 

Last Words from Montmartreby influential modernist and first openly lesbian Chinese writer Qiu Miaojin, could be said to be written from multiple afterlives. Published posthumously after Qiu’s suicide at the age of twenty-six, the book takes the form of twenty frenzied letters that zigzag through time to document the narrator/letter-writer’s doomed relationship with her lover Yong. The letters are numbered but presented randomly, and Qiu herself advised reading them out of order, perhaps the best way to appreciate the jumble of memory and desire caught up in the writer'’ feverish obsession. 

“Could you accept my uninhibited desire for you? Could you bear to know what you’ve rejected? If I spoke the whole truth, would you face it . . . ?”  read more >>>

Our excerpt caroms between Paris and Tokyo and between direct address and narrative, ending with an ambiguous reunion at Narita Airport. The book has been characterized as “one long suicide note,” and as always with authors who took their own lives, we can’t help reading with that in mind; but the power of Qiu’s work supersedes the restrictions of biographical interpretations. 

Since we archive our content, everything published on the site has an afterlife, too—just as we hope Women in Translation Month continues to guide reading choices throughout the year.

Image: Ghostly figure, Meteora, photograph by William Neuheisel, 2010, couresty of Creative Commons.


Published Aug 12, 2016   Copyright 2016 Susan Harris

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