Review by Lise Brouwers
Shawna Yang Ryan, acclaimed author of 2009’s Water Ghosts, now returns with her latest novel, Green Island. Though both deeply rooted in her past, and history of the Chinese, Green Island has a whole new approach.
Water Ghosts took a step away from politics and engagement, suggesting that time and circumstance are subjective. Told through native folktales and myths, one could accuse her of escapism and denial, to me it was about a desperate need to, not look away, but deeper, further than ourselves, right now.
But Green Island is all about confrontation, repression and rebellion. Overviewing six decades of the seemingly never-ending control over Taiwan by the Chinese, this novel is the story of a girl, a woman, yearning for the normal life she won’t ever have. Her father was mysteriously taken away from his family, deported, just after she was born.
Not knowing him, or the truth about the reasons for his disappearance, and that of countless others, she takes her situation for granted, only to discover all she ever knew was secrecy and make-believe.
With this knowledge, she tries to find out what truth is behind the lie she’s been living. Fighting for justice, the disappointment when there turns out to be no such thing, and all the while longing for freedom, as a person.
From Taiwan to the US and back, in time and in the minds of those she knows she loves, but not why, this agonizingly chilling novel is told slowly, delicately, as to creep into the awareness you’re growing, with her, of the burden of an obsession that’s already part of you.