Novels to characterise Taiwan for travellers

I’m editing a business magazine feature on Taiwan and would like to review a novel (narrative non-fiction might work too) that would prep travellers. It’s about getting an impression of the country, not a how-to guide. Think sounds, sights, smells and relationships.

One I’ve found online (haven’t got as far as reading it) is Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, starting with the delivery of a baby on 228 1947 (sounds a bit like Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie - I haven’t read that either). Its major downside in recomending a book to ‘read before you go’ is that it’s 400 pages.

Has anyone read this? Does anyone have any ideas for books to give a taste (or smell) of the country.

Thinking about it, films might be good too. I like Cape No 7.

It’s been about seven years since I posted here. Still miss Taiwan.

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For films… most Taiwanese films are not as well put together as Cape No. 7. Some have a more documentary feel to them. They can still be touching in their own ways though.

A few of what I think would be good for travellers.

Wawa no Cidal (太陽的孩子, Children of the Sun)

This is a film about a working mom who has to drop her reporter job to rush back to Hualien, when she received the news that her father is hospitalized and there’s no one to take care of her two children living with their grandpa.

She subsequently decided to fulfil her father’s dream of restoring their tribe’s coastal irrigation system, and faced a series of challenges.

This film showcased the beauty of Taiwan’s East coast.

練習曲 (Island Etude)

This one is about a student with hearing impairment embarking on an around the island cycling trip alone.

不老騎士 (Go Grandriders)

This one is about a group of elderly (on average over 81 years old), deciding to go on an around the island motorcycle tour.

看見台灣 (Beyond Beauty - TAIWAN FROM ABOVE)

An aerial documentary, that’s both visually stunning and explores the ugly truth about Taiwan’s urbanization and industrialization.

那些年,我們一起追的女孩 (You are the apple of my eye)

This is a teen romantic comedy. Half way through the movie the main characters went on many day trips to several famous destinations such as Pingxi and Lugang.


The Martin Scorsese film about Jesuit priests in Japan was filmed in Taiwan. There are scenes shot at Taipei’s volcano vents and Taidong’s coastline.

Life of Pi

The Ang Li movie was also shot in Taiwan. The mystery carnivorous island was shot in Kenting.


Thanks for those film ideas. I’d forgotten about Island Etude, which I liked, although it’s unconventional in terms of plot structure. Also now thought of Eat Drink Man Woman, and could give other Ang Lee films a mention.

Films may be easier to come by but I’d like to do a book review though. A UK Taiwan Studies academic has recommended Masked Dolls by Shih Chiung-yu.

Not sure if you are still looking for ideas, but…

“Orphan of Asia” by Wu Zhuoliu might be a good choice. It’s not about contemporary life, but it is about cultural/political/identity issues that continue to haunt the island today. I found it very interesting.

As for movies, Edward Yang’s “Yi Yi” and “A Brighter, Summer Day” are both excellent, albeit very different. The former is about the conflict between tradition and modernity for a family living in contemporary Taipei. The latter is a troubling look at life for a youth and his friends, growing up while living under military rule. (A very rich film, 4 hours long!)

If you have already made a decision, let us know what it was, eh? :slight_smile: