When I first heard of Taipei, a little before it went on sale, and saw its catchy cover, I thought how cool it’d be to finally read some contemporary litterature taking place in a city that I like. The author, Tao Lin, was also new to me, but I did not really care to do a background check of his previous works before diving into the book, mainly wanting to leave the suspense whole.
I expected a story taking place in streets of Taipei, its small alleys, or nearby nature. I was hoping to read about the characters munching on some Taiwanese snacks, junk food from 7-11 or getting drunk at a fast fry. I thought I’d have a story filled with references about Taipei and Taiwan, as this would have been a fun way to re-discover all those familiar elements under a new light.
However, the story is very New-York centric, and pretty heavy on drugs, following the characters getting high on all sort of drugs page after page, I quickly overdosed around mid-way in the book and had to skim my way through the end, only stopping for a closer look whenever I saw Taipei or Taiwan pop up. When I reached the last leaf, I mostly felt a misunderstanding between what the author delivered and what I expected. I wanted 100% of Taipei, but only got 10% of Taipei and 90% of New York.
I’m not criticizing Tao Lin or the book, I dived in with some expectations so it was my mistake. New York is a fascinating city but I’m not as into it as many others, nor am I familiar with all the trendy drugs in use nowadays, so I felt even more disconnected from the story and the author. This book just wasn’t meant for me, and I’ll leave it as that. Maybe a trip to New York and into its social scene could change my opinion?
According to the most helpful favorable reviewer on amazon, the author recommends reviewing the book while high on MDMA or adderall, but having watched enough episodes of Locked Up Abroad, I know better than being in possession of drugs in a foreign country lest I’d be sentenced for long-term jail or capital punishment, so I’m writing this review simply high on good chocolate, the best legal drug that I know of 😉 . I haven’t verified if Tao Lin really made such a recommendation, but do read the review in question, it’s pretty epic!
All in all, Taipei is a book that you’ll either love or hate, just don’t pick it up for the same reasons that I did or you’ll set yourself for disappointment. If you want more of the real Taipei from the author, you can check out his series of iPhone Photos of Taipei. The Facedown Generation and Taipei Babies come with some snarky captions, courtesy of Tao Lin, which gave me a good laugh. At last, I connected with the author.
To get a taste of the story and the author behind it, here’s a video of Tao Lin doing a reading at one of his promotional book tour event. A longer version with the Q&A session afterwards is available on YouTube.
Now, let’s end with a little game, hehe. I’m not a frequent passenger on the Taipei MRT, but I believe that I’ve picked up a cultural inaccuracy in the book, can you see which one I’m referring to?