Chang Yu-Ko. Whisper. Translated by Roddy Flagg. Honford Star, 2021.
Genre tags: horror (folk horror), East Asia (Taiwan, Japan, China), history (Japanese colonization), Indigenous peoples (Bunun).
Taiwanese doctor-turned-writer Chang Yu-Ko’s debut novel Whisper (trans. by Roddy Flagg and published in English by Honford Star, an indie publisher devoted to bringing Asian fiction to the Anglophone market) is a powerhouse ghost story that explores the complex, often violent layers of Taiwanese history from Chinese colonization of Indigenous Austronesian peoples like the Bunun, Japanese imperial control in the early twentieth century, and Taiwan’s rapid industrial and economic growth in the twenty-first century. Chang tracks the unfolding horror with a gritty sense of realism that pays equal attention to difficult emotion and the shittiness of poverty in urban Taiwan.
Whisper is eerie from the get go, occasionally terrifying in its use of horror tropes drawn largely from the J- and K-horror cinematic traditions (Chang expertly handles the transposition of filmic techniques to prose narrative), and illuminates a century of Taiwanese history and its social and economic struggles. I can’t recommend this novel enough for what it is, but also what it promises for Chang and the increasing number of East Asian horror novels entering the Anglophone market (see Pyun Hye-young’s The Hole or Mariko Koike’s The Graveyard Apartment for excellent recent examples).
A full review is in World Literature Today (Jan. 2022).