Model Village, Taichung

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Model Village, Taichung
Author: Ian Hideo Levy
Specifications: ISBN  978-4087716528
139 pages
13.8 x 19.5 cm / 5.5 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shueisha Inc.
Tokyo, 2016
Awards: Yomiuri Prize for Literature, 2016
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This is a collection of four stories by American-born author Ian Hideo Levy, who now makes his home in Japan and writes fiction in Japanese.

The title work is a thrilling and captivating account of a journey in search of his roots that Levy makes to his childhood home in Taiwan, where he lived from the ages of six to ten as the son of a China scholar posted to the American Embassy. Levy has long pondered the significance of someone like him writing fiction in Japanese in a traditional Japanese-style wood-frame home. Here, with only faint recollections from childhood to guide him, he finds his way to the actual house where he lived in a section of Taichung then known as Mohankyō, or “Model Village,” where the streets were lined with traditional Japanese-style homes built during the Japanese occupation.

His years growing up in Taichung had been an intensely multilingual, multicultural experience. He attended a missionary school, where the pupils were taught stories from a Bible written in the English of some three centuries before. Outside of school he was exposed to the Chinese spoken by refugees from the mainland and the very different Chinese spoken by the native Taiwanese, as well as to remnants of the Japanese culture imposed by the occupation. This was the cradle in which Levy’s exophony developed, and he returns to it now for the first time in 52 years.

During the 1990s, Levy repeatedly visited an agricultural village in the remote interior of China. He reveals that he made these trips in search of landscapes that reminded him of his Taiwanese “hometown” nearly 50 years earlier. Japan had undergone an extreme makeover in the years following the end of World War II. In more recent years, much of China was experiencing extraordinarily rapid economic growth. He knew as well that Taiwan had been through its own transformation. But until this point, he had hesitated to return to Taiwan for fear he might not be able to go on writing if he were to see with his own eyes that the landscapes from which he had drawn so much of the inspiration for his fiction were no more.

When a Japanese language teacher living in Taiwan who had published a volume of criticism on Levy’s work urges him to come and look for his former home, Levy overcomes his hesitation and decides to make the trip. The former “village” where he lived has been transformed into city streets lined with apartment buildings and convenience stores, but he quickly recognizes where he is. He goes down a narrow lane to find a familiar gutter at the end, and his eyes fill with tears. When he is shown to a memorial hall for Taiwanese military heroes in what is described as the former residence of the Japanese major, he recognizes it as the very house in which he had lived as a child.

Noteworthy among the other stories is “Going Native,” in which Levy returns to the theme of exophony by pondering the question of why Nobel Prize–winning author Pearl Buck never tried her hand at writing fiction in Chinese. The volume immediately gains a place among this border-crossing author’s most important works.