The Old Capital: A Novel of Taipei

The Old Capital: A Novel of Taipei

by T'ien-hsin Chu
     
 

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Chu T'ien-hsin's The Old Capital is a brilliant evocation of Taiwan's literature of nostalgia and remembrance. The novel is centered on the question, "Is it possible that none of your memories count?" and explores the reliability of remembrances and the thin line that separates fact from fantasy.

Comprised of four thematically linked stories and a novella,

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Overview

Chu T'ien-hsin's The Old Capital is a brilliant evocation of Taiwan's literature of nostalgia and remembrance. The novel is centered on the question, "Is it possible that none of your memories count?" and explores the reliability of remembrances and the thin line that separates fact from fantasy.

Comprised of four thematically linked stories and a novella, The Old Capital focuses on the cultural and psychological realities of contemporary Taiwan. The stories are narrated by individuals who share an aching nostalgia for a time long past. Strolling through modern Taipei, they return to the lost, imperfect memories called forth by the smells and sensations of their city, and try to reconcile themselves to their rapidly changing world.

The novella is built on the memories and recollections of a woman trying to make sense of herself and her homeland. After a trip to Kyoto to meet with a friend, she returns to Taipei, where, having been mistaken for a Japanese tourist, she revisits the sites of her youth using a Japanese colonial map of the city. Seeing Taipei anew, the narrator confronts the complex nature of her identity, embodied in the contrast between a serene and preserved Kyoto and a thoroughly modernized and chaotic Taipei.

The growing angst of these narrators reflects a deeper anxiety over the legacy of Japan and America in Taiwan. The titles of the stories themselves-"Death in Venice," "Man of La Mancha," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Hungarian Water"-reveal the strong currents of influence that run throughout the collection and shape the content and texture of the writing. In his meticulous translation, Howard Goldblatt captures the casual, intimate feel of Chu T'ien-hsin's writing while also maintaining its multiple layers of meaning. An intertextual masterpiece, The Old Capital is a moving and highly sensual meditation on the elasticity of memory and its power to shape personal identity.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Taipei Times - Bradley Winterton
An important, and indeed major contribution to Taiwanese literature in English.

Booklist
Dense, demanding, and quite possibly unforgettable.

Taipei Times
An important, and indeed major contribution to Taiwanese literature in English.

— Bradley Winterton

Publishers Weekly

T'ien-hsin's impressive collection reveals a society's inner conflicts over everything from politics to sex, but especially identity. In "Death in Venice" the reader is taken through the creative process as the narrator becomes wrapped in his own story's mechanics. "Man of La Mancha" and "Hungarian Water" both center around philosophical inquiries into death and identity. In the first, a man worries about the mundane contents of his wallet, which prompt him to make mundane adjustments to what he carries. In the other, two men reminisce about the women they've known in an attempt to postpone and "outlast" the inevitable. The young narrator in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" spars with an older writer who is trying to understand the city's "new humans." The title novella (a rewardingly complex second-person tale) speculates on the reliability of memory as a woman revisits the changing urban scenes of her youth, leaving her to wonder "What is this place?" Goldblatt's expert translation captures the subtleties of competing Eastern and Western influences. The result is an accomplished and intelligent portrayal of Taipei's cultural evolution. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231141123
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
04/03/2007
Series:
Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
236
Sales rank:
1,335,400
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Chu T'ien-hsin is a prominent Taiwanese intellectual, and by the 1990s, she and her sister Chu T'ien-wen were recognized as leading writers of fiction. She is the author of a collection of short stories entitled Fangzhou shang de rizi (Days on board the ark), and a former literary editor. Currently she works as a freelance writer in Taiwan.Howard Goldblatt is research professor of East Asian languages and literatures at the University of Notre Dame and an internationally renowned translator. He has published English translations of more than thirty novels and short story collections and has authored many books on Chinese literature.

Columbia University Press

Read an Excerpt

A helicopter hovered in the air, probably searching for a corpse floating in the river; an old man on a motor scooter that belched dark smoke came toward you, an old woman seated behind him, then passed by, probably on their way to identify the body; a pack of wild dogs was now under the Chinese hibiscuses, all looking up at you, neither barking nor wagging their tales, and that included a puppy that, normally not on its guard, was looking at you coldly; the high-pitched sounds of a funeral song came to you softly from the far side of the river; someone was burning leaves and grass, giving off a smell that had hung in the air ever since humans had learned to use fire; the young basketball players had vanished, leaving an orange ball bouncing on the cement all by itself; near the overpass, the gray wall that kept getting taller, like a prison wall, was clean and unmarked.
What is this place?... You began to wail.

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