Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"Green Island"

Shawna Yang Ryan is a former Fulbright scholar and the author of Water Ghosts and Green Island. She teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Her short fiction has appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Asian American Literary Review, Kartika Review, and The Berkeley Fiction Review. She is the 2015 recipient of the Elliot Cades Emerging Writer award.

Ryan applied the Page 69 Test to Green Island and reported the following:
1952. Taiwan. Martial law under dictator Chiang Kai-Shek.

On page 69 of Green Island, the unnamed narrator is just five years old and the youngest of four children. Her father has been arrested as a political dissident and her family has no idea if he is dead or alive. A possible widow, her mother moves the children to her own parents’ home in central Taiwan.

In this scene, the narrator has come across some of her father’s belongings, including his wallet, and she steals the money to buy some sweets. The shopkeeper sees the money—from the Japanese colonial era—and knows that it is stolen. In the culture of fear and repression under the Kuomintang in 1952, traitors were jailed for much less, so the shopkeeper rebukes the narrator and sends her away. Later that night, she comes to speak with the narrator’s mother.

The mix of yearning and fear is a theme throughout the book. Alas, it was also a key feature of that era in Taiwan, and it is encapsulated in this child’s innocent mistake.

The page closes with the mother going to the narrator, who waits anxiously in bed, pretending to sleep. You must turn the page to see if the mother punishes her or comforts her….
Learn more about the book and author at Shawna Yang Ryan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Water Ghosts.

--Marshal Zeringue