The Children in the Middle

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The Children in the Middle
Author: Yourou Wen
Specifications: ISBN  978-4087711226
168 pages
13.8 x 19.6 cm / 5.5 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shueisha Inc.
Tokyo, 2017
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This is the story of a child of two worlds—Japanese and Taiwanese—and the identity crisis she faces as a young woman.

Kotoko Amahara’s father is Japanese, her mother Taiwanese. Kotoko is born in Taipei and lives there until she is three years old, when the family moves permanently to Japan. By the age of four, Kotoko believes the Taiwanese-Chinese mix spoken at home and the Japanese spoken outside are the only two languages in the world. Now age 19 and attending a Chinese language school in Tokyo, she departs to spend a month studying in Shanghai.

Kotoko struggles to improve her Chinese only to be berated by her teacher. Two friends, however, support and encourage her. One is her roommate, Ling Ling, a classmate from the same Chinese school Kotoko attended in Japan. Ling Ling’s father is Taiwanese and her mother, Japanese. Her Chinese is much better than Kotoko’s. The other friend is Long Shunzai, a university junior. Long’s grandfather is a former Taiwan immigrant to Japan with Japanese citizenship.

The story bounces from language to language in a dizzying mix of standard Japanese, the Japanese Kansai dialect, Chinese, and Taiwanese with its strong southern Chinese accent. (The text, too, is a visual kaleidoscope of Chinese and Japanese characters, Japanese hiragana script, and English—promising fertile ground for rendering the mix creatively in translation.)

The language teacher in the Shanghai school scoffs at Kotoko’s faltering Chinese and scolds her for not speaking the “national language” “correctly” and “normally.” Kotoko’s two friends, however, tell her to stay proud, not to mind when she is taunted as a fake Japanese, not to concern herself with whichever language she chooses to speak.

Fifteen years later, Kotoko prepares to depart for Kaohsiung, Taiwan, where she has gotten a job teaching the children of immigrants from mainland China. She has persevered since her days in Shanghai, acquired a master’s degree, and has been teaching Chinese at her former school in Japan.

Much of this story is based on the author’s own experiences and carries a strong sense of reality throughout as she explores in depth the intricate web of relationships and language.