REVIEW: ‘THE STOLEN BICYCLE’ BY WU MING-YI

Che’eng’s father disappeared in 1993,the day just after the Chung-Shan Hall Market was torn down, along with his bicycle. Twenty years later, the narrator’s quest to find his father’s Lucky (ride your way to luck) #04886 bicycle and it’s consecutive owners throughout all the years, Che’eng comes across an array of people and memories left by others.

Wu Ming-Yi, one of most important contemporary writers of Taiwan, besides being an author, is also an artist, activist and multidisciplinary. ‘The Stolen Bicycle’ published by Text Publishing UK in 2017, widely read and loved was his second novel to be translated to English by academic Darryl Sterk. The novel was longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize.

The narrator grew up in a small town in Taiwan as the youngest of seven siblings, with a mother constantly complaining about her youngest not knowing about life with poverty and retelling stories of a time when a bicycle theft was reported in the newspapers – a ‘thih-be’ or an iron horse at those times were more of a symbol of status than a Mercedes holds today. And a father who spoke so little that it was like his life never existed before he got married and his wife made all the memories.

An email by a reader taps at the mind of our writer and antique bicycle ‘fanatic’ narrator about his father’s and the bicycle disappearance. And this he sets out to track down Lucky #04886.

He found friends in antique dealers and fellow bicycle fanatics; heard stories of a soldier who turned into a tiny bird and a timeless underwater swim alongside handicapped/injured fish-men; got to know about the cruelty of killing hundreds of thousands of butterflies to make luxurious handicrafts.

He also got to know about the war. From a war photographer who rode through a jungle, in hiding and lost his own bike at first sight of the sea in weeks. From the recorded tapes of a dead Japanese soldier who had once been excited about joining the force in his youth; while in the war, he had lost his way in the deep forests, lost his friend to ants and bugs in a hole of a tree bark, smelled the ferocious smell of a tiger, felt the earthshaking thud of fallen elephants, and blinked through a storm of huge birds, which he later heard were already extinct. From an old zoologist about the fate of the animals in Asian zoos during the war and about her tree climber friend.

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