Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, available Feb 23, 2016 from Knopf
A fascinating read for anyone who wants to know more about the backdrop of Taiwan and how the country came to be what it is today. And that is one of the best reasons for historic and literary fiction: to allow us to cross boundaries.
One drawback with this book was that the historical elements are not narrated in a way that can help readers from outside the culture easily enter this time and place. And that is a great shame, because a lot of readers will turn away from this book due to that.
For readers who can keep going, they will find the story of a family that crosses generations. Told primarily from the viewpoint of a daughter (which is an interesting choice in this culture), the novel maintains its intimate focus. That is also important when dealing with such large movements in time and important historical events. That keeps readers grounded throughout.
The other drawback was a voice that felt a little damp. I wondered throughout if we were seeing the author’s true voice or a translation that didn’t quite capture the original sound and emotion the author placed on the page.
But this also could be a good thing. It kept the narrative easy to access, and helped reduce the effort involved in learning the historic details.