The Man with the Compound Eyes
By Wu Ming-Yi
(Pantheon, Hardcover, 9780307907967, 304pp.)
Publication Date: May 20, 2014
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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When a tsunami sends a massive island made entirely of trash crashing into the Taiwanese coast, two very different people—an outcast from a mythical island and a woman on the verge of suicide—are united in ways they never could have imagined. Here is the English-language debut of a new and exciting award-winning voice from Taiwan, who has written an “astonishing” novel (The Independent) that is at once fantasy, reality, and dystopian environmental saga.
Fifteen-year-old Atile’i—a native of Wayo Wayo, an island somewhere in the Pacific—has come of age. Following the custom of his people, he is set adrift as a sacrifice to the Sea God but, unlike those who have gone before him, Atile’i is determined to defy precedent and survive. His chances seem slim, but just as it appears that hope is lost, Atile’i comes across a sprawling trash vortex floating in the ocean and climbs onto it.
Meanwhile, on the east coast of Taiwan, Alice, a college professor, is overcome with grief. Her husband and son are missing, having disappeared while hiking in the mountains near their home. Alice is so distraught that she decides to end her own life. But her plans are interrupted by a violent storm that causes the trash vortex to collide with the Taiwanese coast, bringing Atile’i along with it. Alice and Atile’i subsequently form an unlikely friendship that helps each of them come to terms with what they have lost. Together they set out to uncover the mystery of Alice’s lost family, following their footsteps into the mountains. Intertwined with Alice and Atile’i’s story are the lives of others affected by the tsunami, from environmentalists to Taiwan’s indigenous peoples—and, of course, the mysterious man with the compound eyes.
A work of lyrical beauty that combines magical realism and environmental fable, The Man with the Compound Eyes is an incredible story about the bonds of family, the meaning of love, and the lasting effects of human destruction.
Wu Ming-Yi was born in 1971 in Taiwan, where he still lives. A writer, artist, professor, and environmental activist, he has been teaching literature and creative writing at National Dong Hwa University since 2000 and is now a professor in the Department of Chinese. Wu is the author of two books of nature writing, the second of which, The Way of Butterflies, was awarded the China Times Open Book Award in 2003. His debut novel, Routes in the Dream, was named one of the ten best Chinese-language novels of the year by Asian Weekly magazine. The Man with the Compound Eyes is his first book to be translated into English.
“Astonishing. . . . A wonderful novel which deserves a very wide audience.” —The Independent (London)
“We haven't read anything like this novel. Ever. South America gave us magical realism—what is Taiwan giving us? A new way of telling our new reality, beautiful, entertaining, frightening, preposterous, true. Completely unsentimental but never brutal, Wu Ming-Yi treats human vulnerability and the world's vulnerability with fearless tenderness.” —Ursula K. Le Guin
“An earnest, politically conscious novel, anchored in ecological concerns and Taiwanese identity. . . . [Wu’s] writing occupies the space between hard-edged realism and extravagantly detailed fantasy. . . . There may be walking trees, miraculous butterflies and deer that morph into goats, but this is a novel anchored in the gritty mess of what it means to remember and to exist as an individual. . . . Beyond the book's ecological and scientific attributes, you can see a deft novelist's hand at work.” —Tash Aw, The Guardian
“A universal, yet unique, tale of love and loss. . . . The Man with the Compound Eyes defies categorization. A heady mix of science fiction, fantasy, environmental fable and magical realism, the author had to create a genre entirely new for this singular, captivating book. . . . [A work of] lyrical, haunting beauty.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A striking book. . . . [Wu's] characters are not just full and round but, in their every small detail and stray thought, seem to stretch their own skins, swollen with a complex humanity. . . . It is science fiction . . . in the way that the best Margaret Atwood books are science fiction. . . . At the same time, it's [also] in the tradition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magic realism. . . . I read it on the train, on my couch, standing on the street outside a beer garden with a couple of liters already in me and in my car while I drove. . . . I couldn't put it down. . . . I missed the story when I wasn't living inside it. Because as distant and foreign as it was . . . The Man with the Compound Eyes felt like home.” —Jason Sheehan, NPR
“The depiction of Atile’i’s magical realm and his innocent wonder at this unfamiliar and murky world is imaginative and moving.” —Financial Times
“I'm fascinated by The Man with the Compound Eyes, which is rich, dense and dripping with life. The book sings in the key of fable, but with the timbre of reality.” —Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Fictional Universe
“Wu’s rollercoaster of a story is about wilderness, wildness, wonderment, love. . . . I couldn’t put it down, and over the course of several days I felt that I had ventured into a new, uncharted territory concocted by a Taipei visionary. Part South American magical realism, part Margaret Atwood rollercoaster of the imagination. . . . [The Man with the Compound Eyes includes] perhaps the best writing to ever come out of a Taiwan novel. . . . The English translation . . . is superb and sensitively captures the nuances of Taiwan’s Aboriginal cultures and languages.” —Taipei Times
“This is a brilliant story. I wept at the description of the dying whales and the approaching tsunami. I've been bemoaning of late the lack of omniscient storytellers, and they work best with a whimsical and fantastical narrator like this. I think this work will be a classic. A haunting and evocative tale, beautifully told." —Hugh Howey, author of Wool
“Beautifully written and beautifully translated. . . . [Ming-Yi] guides us to see the entirety of experience as bumping flotsam in an unending ocean of life colliding and making a mess of things or making something new. . . . Lyric, simple, soft, the story crests and recedes and comes back again.” —The Bloomington Sun-Current
“A gift. . . . Ming-Yi is a naturalist as well as a storyteller, and it is perhaps his greatest achievement that this novel creates a sense of solidarity not only between his human characters, but also between [the] humans and the animals and plants he describes with such fidelity and with such inspiring belief in the reality of their wisdom and power.” —FullStop
“[The Man with the Compound Eyes] has charm. . . adventure, horror, awe, and a heavy proenvironmental theme. . . . Offering a heady dose of realism, surrealism, and magic realism, with several shots of allegory, award-winning Chinese author Wu offers a work for ‘literary fiction’ readers, but not in the snobbish sense. It's really for any curious, intelligent reader not tethered to the best sellers lists.” —Library Journal (starred review)