Presenting a rare opportunity to read Taiwanese youth fiction, this book is a poignant fable about a reclusive boy who finds a diary written by his father. Full of stories and drawings of an alpine world once inhabited by native tribes, it draws the reader into a mystical setting occupied by tree spirits, dancing fleas, talking animals, vibrant birdsong and guiding stars. The chosen medium leaves the narrative free of plot and the resulting feeling of meandering freedom mirrors the reader’s experiences as they discover more about the world around them. The passing of time is marked by school days, seasons and annual fairs, with its transience serving only to underscore the passing and loss of a people’s way of life.
Despite the loss, the reader is left with a feeling of timelessness as spiritual experience is passed from one generation to the next: the boy is quite sure that he is able to commune with his long-dead grandfather. The narrative also evokes a beautiful natural world which is full of sensory images that often lend a dream-like quality to the narrative. This is further reinforced by the blurring of fantasy and reality in much of the text.
There is a contemplative tone and ethereal atmosphere in this book which sets it apart from contemporary youth novels by English writers. The language is rich in simile and metaphor, and whilst the translation is sometimes awkward in its use of colloquialisms, none of the quality of the story language is lost. It’s a sophisticated text and a challenging read, but well worth the effort in order to appreciate the depth and quality of a story from another culture.