« The Man with the Compound Eyes » by Wu Ming-Yi

It’s not everyday that I am reading taiwanese literature. Anticipating a journey in Taiwan in November, I came upon the last novel by Wu Ming-Yi : « L’homme aux yeux à facettes », or in english : « The Man with the Compound Eyes ». He has been writing for almost twenty years but it’s only the second translation of one of his books in french and it’s a great translation.

Wu Ming-Yi is a taiwanese writer, teacher, photographer, blogger, and environmental activist, which shows through his novel. The beginning of the novel is quite strange : it shows an imaginary island, Wayo-Wayo, lost in the ocean. The community is sustaining with the natural resources of this tiny island, and adoring specific gods, for instance the sea god Kabang.

The novel carries on with other characters on a much bigger island, Taiwan, much precisely on the gorgeous east coast of Taiwan. From now on, the story is continually criss-crossing between the two locations. Of course a meeting will occur between the two worlds but I don’t want to say too much about it, no spoil.

I can just add that there is a phenomena that will upset the two worlds, and this is no imaginary phenomena : it’s the great pacific garbage patch. This is no fiction, it’s for real, and it’s not so much talked about, despite its importance :

It’s only at the end of the book that you will discover who actually is the man with the compound eyes, I must admit the end is a very open one, every reader will have his own interpretation.

I had a great time reading this book, really enjoyed it : the language is clear and the style limpid, there is a lot of poetry and sensible characters. Having read the last Haruki Murakami novel just a month ago, I can make a few connections : the mixture of fantasy with reality, the importance of psychology in the characters (although it’s more developed with Murakami), the description of nature wonders (this time Wu Ming-yi is the best).

This is a great novel, highly worth reading. In our times of global weather changes, Wu Ming-Yi foresees future catastrophes, but he does it with a lot of poetry, and a great sense of respect for poetry, aboriginal cultures and mother nature. Go for it !

wu ming-yi