Here are twelve moving short stories about Taiwan and its people by one of the island's most popular writers, Cheng Ch'ing-wen. Focusing primarily on village life and the effects of modernization on Taiwan in the postwar years, Cheng is one of the most respected of the island's "nativist" writers, yet this is his first book to be translated into English. This anthology represents the best of his fictional efforts across a forty-year span and encompasses his major themes: the tensions between men and women, parents and children, city and village, tradition and modernity. Taken individually, each story presents a moving portrait of paralysis, frustration, or self-realization. Together, they weave a complex tapestry of life in a rapidly changing country.
Cheng Ch'ing-wen's stories tell of men grappling with their fears and frustrations, from "The River Suite," in which a ferryman-championed throughout his small town for twice saving a drowning person-lacks the courage to confess his love to a young woman before she dies, to "Spring Rain," in which a man struggles to come to terms with his seemingly rootless life as both an orphaned child and an infertile husband. Here too are illustrations of the changing place of women in Taiwan, as they take on more powerful roles and awaken to a sense of their own sexuality: a woman forcibly separated from her husband by her jealous mother-in-law walks for hours through the night to see him on his birthday, only to turn back and go straight home before her absence is noticed; a disappointed young female scholar with a deformed hand comes to realize--after many painful rejections--that loneliness is not reason enough to become intimate with a man. And generations clash in "Thunder God's Gonna Getcha," as a mother's cruelty is repaid years later by a son's coldness.
Death reverberates throughout these stories as characters recall deceased spouses, lovers, relatives, and friends in vivid detail. The focus, however, is not on the dead but on the living. In the title story, an old man carves exquisite lame horses as both a penance for having terrorized a town as a police officer during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in World War II and a memorial to his deceased wife, who was nobler and more courageous than he. This book is a kind of gallery of three-legged horses: portraits of people maimed and transformed-for better or worse-by the suffering that life brings.
This collection of simple stories, written in simple language yet rich with vivid details, presents a gallery of portraits of disorientation, distortion, and frustration.
Hearts and souls are lost and found in each of these moving tales. Three-Legged Horse is a rare jewel, the first English translations from Cheng's 40-year writing career. We can only wait in eager anticipation for his next collection.
Cheng writes in a simple, clear, and disciplined manner, with no pretensions.... The stories... have universal appeal.
J. W. Walls, Simon Fraser University
The moment you open the book you know why Cheng is considered a master.... These 12 tales are the finest examples of modern Chinese fiction I have come across in English.
Chekhov... would have understood the compassionate sensibility animating these gently harrowing, unpretentious, absorbing tales.
The subtle gestures of the esteemed Cheng's first translated collection summon the ghosts of Taiwan's past. In twelve wistful stories, Cheng sketches characters who must reconcile their literal or cultural memories of Taiwan's politically unstable history with the routines of their modern lives.... Cheng's eye is sharp and keenly trained on the details of a changing society.
1. The River Suite, by translated by Lien-ren Hsiao2. The Mosquito, by translated by Anne Behnke3. Betel Nut Town, by translated by James R. Landers4. A Fisherman's Family, by translated by Jane Parish Yang5. The Last of the Gentlemen, by translated by Chen I-djen6. Secrets, by translated by Jeffrey Toy Eng7. God of Thunder's Gonna Getcha, by translated by Nicholas Koss8. Autumn Night, by translated by Michele Wu9. Spring Rain, by translated by Karen Steffen Chung10. The Three-Legged Horse, by translated by Carlos G. Tee11. Hair, by translated by Karen Steffen Chung12. The Coconut Palms on Campus, by translated by Fred Steiner