In Far Away, a fictionalized version of middle-aged writer Lo Yi-Chin finds himself stranded in China. His father had fled the Mainland to Taiwan decades ago, abandoning his first family to start a new life. After relations between the two countries are normalized, the senior Mr. Lo returns to his home province to visit the sons he’d left behind, only to suffer a stroke. Lo Yi-Chin travels to China and begins a protracted struggle with the byzantine Communist hospital regulations, attempting to arrange for his comatose father’s repatriation with the help of the half-brothers he barely knows. Meanwhile, Mr. Lo’s wife back in Taiwan is about to give birth to their second child, and he suffers great anxiety about leaving her alone at this critical time.
This novel is valuable as a point of view rarely heard outside the Chinese-language world: the Taiwanese perspective of China. There is both belonging and exclusion here; Mr. Lo is part of the generation descended from exiles from the Mainland, and he has spoken of immigrants from his father’s era creating ‘a legend of wanderers’, a haunting evocation of a country that has rejected them, and yet remains deeply embedded within their identity.
In the decade since Far Away was published, China-Taiwan relations have only grown more acute, and after the recent bouts of unrest in Hong Kong as well as Taipei, this humanizing view of cross-border tensions has become even more relevant. While China is increasingly being viewed as a global superpower that might well play a definitive role in the twenty-first century global landscape, observing how it behaves towards its immediate neighbors, and the repercussions at a human level, are illuminating of its psyche.
Lo Yi-Chin is both utterly Taiwanese and an outsider in his own country – unable to feel he fully belongs as so much of his family history links back to the Mainland. With a foot in both camps and a keen ability to observe himself and his surroundings with detachment, Mr. Lo is ideally placed to record this story of a single family spread across two countries – meaning both the Lo clan, and the larger Chinese population and its diaspora.
Far Away is a beautiful meditation on the nature of family, and the many ways in which blood and nationality can both unite and divide us.
The Author: Lo Yi-chin is one of Taiwan’s most influential and established writers. Born in 1967, he attended Chinese Culture University, where he studied Chinese literature, and later earned a master’s degree in theater from Taipei National University of the Arts. He has published eight novels, five short story collections, six essay collections a children’s book, poetry and literary criticism. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the China Times Literature Award, the Hong Lou Meng Prize and the 10th United Daily News Literature Prize. In 2007, he was a visiting writer at the University of Iowa.
My child scurried over to the three playground toys, a motorcar, seal and snail on springs, clambering over each of them in turn. This might have been his one moment of pleasure in this whole dull journey. Next, he dashed to what might be imagined as a castle but was actually a metal structure painted red (like a giant Rubik’s cube). When he’d burrowed into one of the metal boxes, he knelt down as if in a real fortress, and called out (this was, during this whole period, one of the few bits of dialogue between us that felt authentically father-and-son), ‘Papa, you can’t see me.’
True, I can’t see you. I said to him, Where have you got to? But just at that moment, I saw another boy, a couple of years older than my kid, the only living thing in this park other than the pair of us and the old people, swinging as energetically as a gibbon across those metal bars. He spotted my child, and swiftly lowered himself beside the metal square he was crouching in.
My child smiled at this boy in the neighboring segment and said, ‘You can’t see me.’ The boy stood, confused, his eyes darting about. I tried to explain, ‘He said you can’t see him.’
Suddenly, as if to prove that there was nothing but empty air between them (rather than reinforced glass or actual brick), the other boy began reaching out to punch my son. Without saying a word, he jabbed at his head, his left ear, tugging his hair up so he crashed against the metal bar, then – before I had time to react or my son could recover from his shock enough to cry out – his movements as quick as before, he slithered away from the metal frame.
And in that moment, the complicated structure holding up the whole world finally snapped and crumbled. Like the panther with its ever-morphing body that wanders through dreams, taking on their different colors, once every feature has been so stretched and frozen from time-travel that it can no longer be recognized, only a gigantic rage could tear through the hardening syrup enveloping its form. I shoved my howling child back into the metal frame behind me, and sprang forward, my muscles at their most carnivorous and explosive, tackling the other boy in his hiding place beneath the cement elephant’s belly. An anguished lament poured from my mouth, no longer resembling human speech. And then, in front of the old men like giant chess pieces petrified by a curse, my fist came down, driving again and again into his flesh, savagely hitting that young stranger, that tiny specimen of humanity . . .
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