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So why is it picking fights? It is an affectionate look at lowlife in Taiwan, with its mix of people and languages - Taiwanese, Mandarin and Japanese - and the cacophony they create. Set in the seaside resort of Hualien in the s, against a background of encroaching Westernization, Wang has written a novel whose themes are at once political and linguistically challenging. When Dong Siwen, an enterprising schoolteacher, learns that U.
His reason: If the girls are clean and can speak a few phrases to their American clients, they will have the GIs "on cloud nine" and everybody will make a fortune from their generosity with dollars.
The main action takes place on an event-filled day, as Wang takes us swiftly through the intricacies of character and plot. What is hard to get away from, and what the book is now famed for, is the profane yet endearing language with which Wang litters his prose. In a novel populated by whores and pimps, this might come as little surprise to some readers. Still, Wang's shock tactics are highly effective.
Translator Howard Goldblatt points out in an excellent preface that in the original Chinese "a host of linguistic oddities pour from the mouths of Wang's characters. Wang's novel was regarded as highly provocative when first published in Taiwan in - just as the republic was taking its first steps as a democracy after more than 30 years of martial law.
The society that Wang depicts is hardly a model of industrious restraint. Yet, in the increasingly chaotic world of which he is at the center, national pride albeit a distorted one is a serious issue for Dong. This flatulent, self-appointed "training director" is bent on grooming "world-class bar girls. With its playful language and original characters, this should appeal to those interested in modern Chinese-language fiction, as well as those who follow Taiwan's evolution as a nation.