Friday, April 8, 2011

Book: Taipei Characters (aka Taipei People)

This slim volume (199 pages in this edition, published in 1982 by Indiana University Press; other editions carry different titles) contains 14 stories, all of which deal with the lives of mainland Chinese who relocated to Taiwan around 1949, the year the Republic of China's was defeated by Mao Zedong's Communists. Written in the 1960s by Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung (sometimes spelled Bai Xianyong 白先勇), the stories in Taipei People depict various types of people – former military officials and their widows, academics, courtesans and restaurant owners.

Pai's writing style is economical and beautiful; several of the stories are exquisite masterpieces. My favourites are Love's Lone Flower (in which the narrator recounts the life and demise of a Taiwanese bargirl/prostitute) and Winter Night. In the latter, two mainlander scholars meet up again after two decades apart; one spent those years in the USA, the other in Taiwan.

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