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The Man with the Compound Eyes

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,995 ratings  ·  277 reviews
On the island of Wayo Wayo, every second son must leave on the day he turns fifteen as a sacrifice to the Sea God. Atile'i is one such boy, but as the strongest swimmer and best sailor, he is determined to defy destiny and become the first to survive.

Alice Shih, who has lost her husband and son in a climbing accident, is quietly preparing to commit suicide in her house by
ebook, 304 pages
Published August 29th 2013 by Vintage Digital (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  1,995 ratings  ·  277 reviews

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May 13, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2022-read, taiwan
Taiwanese writer, professor and environmental activist Wu Ming-Yi gives us innovative ecofiction: We meet an indigenous teenager named Atile'i, who, as a second son, is sent out to sea to die, as it is custom for the Wayo Wayo people. But the young man is saved when he reaches a major trash vortex which finally collides with the Taiwanese coast. There, he meets Alice, a suicidal professor who has just lost her husband and her young son and is only kept alive by a small cat. Together, they try to ...more
Expect some magic and references to be lost in translation, as the book is originally written in Mandarin.

I found myself translating English back to Mandarin at some points and found the writing rather poetic. Even so, I appreciate the translation choices, most of which kept the references and/or lyrical nature of the writing. The book can get quite didactic at some points, but bearably so.

The immersive and lyrical writing transported me into a world of magical realism, and I returned to my own
Virginia Woods-jack
I started this book with an excited curiosity and this continued throughout the book. The intertwining story lines and the non linear weaving of memories providing beautifully detailed back stories for every character introduced alongside the progression of the story line had me hooked. This book is about passion and loss on so many levels. Loss of self, loved ones, traditions, identity, nature, ways of life and life itself. The raw and complex beauty of this book really captured me, there are e ...more
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I discovered his eyes weren't like human eyes. They were more like compound eyes composed of countless single eyes, the eyes of clouds, mountains, streams, meadowlarks and muntjacs, all arranged together. As I gazed, each little eye seemed to contain a different scene, and those scenes arranged to form a vast panorama the likes of which I had never seen.

I was dismayed when I read an article the other day about the Man Booker International Prize committee's decision to bow to Chinese diplomat
Te-yuan Huang
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Love the book. The background is my father's beautiful hometown - Hualien county in Taiwan. Love how the aboriginal culture and people that are so familiar to me being very beautifully written into words. Love the author's story telling style -- nonlinear yet very easy to follow. Love the imagination and the relationship between human-to-human and human-to-nature in this book. It's a book that makes me miss home so badly, highly recommended! ...more
I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway which did not influence my review.

This was a difficult book for me to both read and review because while the message the author wished to convey had great merit, I can't say I enjoyed reading it very much. It was a lot of work, getting through this book, especially the first half when seemingly unrelated characters and their stories had yet to converge. Adding to the difficulty was the flatness of these characters who all talked in the same way, regardles
Aug 07, 2022 rated it really liked it
I was happily absorbed by the house by the sea, the forest, and Ohiyo. The conclusion, featuring the long-awaited appearance of the man with the compound eyes, was too much tell and not enough show.
Linda Robinson
May 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well now. This novel is a dream on different planes of existence. As a scifi book, it's quirky and has the gift of touching a serious subject with a wink behind a hand. As a young woman's story, it is heartfelt, lonely, personal, sorrowful and warm. As a young man's story: the same. I read this novel as a true book lover deep in the story an author has presented; inches from the text thinking I could remember whole sentences, paragraphs, pages. I relish total textual immersion novels, and this i ...more
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This achingly beautiful—and achingly tragic—book saw me through some many weeks of laziness in my reading. Despite finding my way through very slowly, with one or two week-long breaks, I never felt lost when I returned to the book. The stories that make up this novel might lend themselves to being read fragmentally, but (having finally reached the end myself!) I would recommend reading it over the space of a week, if you have that luxury.

Wu Ming-Yi pours astonishing detail into a Taiwan where hu
Set in Taiwan in the immediate future, The Man with the Compound Eyes is an allegorical tale, exploring issues of loss, loneliness, memory, identity, culture, communication, ecology and interdependency via the cleverly interwoven journeys of characters from diverse cultural backgrounds. Whilst the overall story is contemporary, it is heavily infused with elements of myth and legend, both traditional and, I suspect, freshly imagined. Beautifully written, with fantastic visual imagery and characte ...more
Maggie Tidwell
Sep 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Is it just me? I don't usually finish a book with such feelings of confusion and frustration but this book has me baffled. The horrors of man's abuse of the earth and sea are meticulously described in this book and easy enough (if painful) to grasp and mourn. It is the plot and characters' actions I had trouble understanding. There are some fascinating characters in this story (but too many as one reviewer stated) and I cared about what happened to them. The problem was, I could never figure out ...more
Aug 25, 2015 rated it liked it
I’m not quite sure what to think about ‘The Man with the Compound Eyes’. It took me a while to get into, possibly because I found the translation slightly awkward and stilted. Also, the narrative is highly non-linear, jumping between different points of view and time periods. It seemed to read more like a series of vignettes than a cohesive novel. On the other hand, the overarching themes of environmental disaster and the past catching up with the present gathered it together somewhat. I think t ...more
Full Stop
Jun 09, 2014 added it
Shelves: spring-2014
The Man with the Compound Eyes – Wu Ming-Yi

by Hestia Peppe

[Pantheon; 2014]

Tr. Darryl Sterk

“My father said there were two things in the world that would never change,” says Dafu, an aboriginal boy doomed never to be a hunter, “the mountains and the sea.”

This world is warming. I’ve known that since I saw it on the news aged six and cried the night away until my father promised me membership to Greenpeace. In the quarter-century since then, what has been done to solve this problem has been, in sho
Lusine Mkrtchyan
Dec 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the second book of Wu Ming-Yi I read this year and I have to say as in the case of the ‘Stolen bicycle’, with this book also you are amazed how much research did the author do to construct another multi-layer story line. You learn about trush vortex, tunnel engineering, oceanography, about environmental issues of an island, ethical discussions on technological advancements and the trade off of chosing ambitous engineering solutions and protecting the nature.

The book takes the reader to T
Emma Jane
Nov 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful and quiet. I can't possibly begin to explain how wonderful this book is. You just have to read it yourself and find out. ...more
Jan 26, 2022 rated it really liked it
Magical realism meets ecological devastation and human tragedy. I really enjoyed both the made up culture of Wayo Wayo and a glimpse into the aboriginal cultures of Taiwan, especially as they relate to sea, forest, mountain, and trash island. My only criticism is that some characters' relationships fall flat, and some of the timeline is difficult to follow. Read for Taylor's Reading Around the World challenge, Taiwan. ...more
Jeremy Wang
Jul 23, 2022 rated it really liked it
another artsy asian book! really striking idea to merge so many disparate narratives (aboriginal taiwanese and han chinese; isolated pacific islander; german and norwegian) around such a singularly modern event (pacific garbage patch hits the coast of taiwan??).

at time a bit hard to follow because of its chaotic structure and high character count, but it’s redeemed by some off-kilter yet beautiful imagery and a mysterious recurring symbol. worth a read for some unfamiliar emotions and interesti
Aug 07, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
1.5/5 stars. It reads like passages from nonfiction books about environmentalism being shoehorned into an urban fantasy story. Indigenous people appear to serve as mouthpiece of the environmentalism agenda and lifestyles and beliefs seem romanticized. Weird inclusion of additional characters near the end of the book.
Shikha Sreenivas
Feb 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 11, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm not entirely sure what to make of this book. On the one hand there was some beautiful, elegaic language (props to the translator as well, perhaps) and the sense of injustice and the importance of issues such as environmentalism and understanding the fierce detrimental affect man has on the earth, the sea and nature - as well as issues of indigenous peoples and maintaining their culture and identity - was very well expressed and heart-wrenching at times. This felt incredibly important and the ...more
Feb 17, 2015 added it
Shelves: quit
Eh. This book seemed choppy, and it's hard to tell how much of that is a problem of translation. Certain lines would reappear in altered form pages later, the dialogue wasn't that interesting, and there were a few instances of jarring perspective shift.
Beyond sentence level issues, this book didn't really seem to know how realist it wanted to be. I'm always curious to read books that self-identify as environmental fiction, and I wish there was a better way to write crisis/environmentally minded
Sep 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
I'm really not quite sure what to make of this book. I found it an interesting read. Lots of threads of story that started to link together towards the end. What seemed to be quite a few loose threads at the end, which, for me, is normally a good thing as it means there is plenty to think about after finishing the book and plenty of "what if..." to play. However, I have a feeling this book is let down by its translation. I have no way to prove this as my knowledge of Taiwanese is completely non- ...more
Mar 24, 2019 rated it liked it
This didn't live up to its premise or my hopes for it. It devolved into a soapbox about the need to reduce the environmental footprint and the arrogance of our lifestyles (and then, oddly, brought in a theme out of nowhere about the nature of memory in order to resolve the most realized storyline). There were too many characters, many of whom were introduced because their backstory was useful to the author's agenda, despite the fact that they contributed nothing to the plot. I'm an environmental ...more
Feb 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A mind- and genre-bending journey into our imminent future--one where the environment seems to be rebelling against the human species--paradoxically led by a cast of deeply human, remarkably tender souls whose lives intersect in the most uncanny of ways. The translation leaves something to be desired but also enhances the strangeness of this world, and invites us to reconsider our relationships with the place we call home, and the people with whom we make our homes.
Oct 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Reading this book was like attending a lecture where I understand the *core premise* which is:

Ecological globalism vs. cultural relativism

and I can even explain it in my own words and contribute to the intellectual dialogue around it, but from a fundamental level I definitely still do not get it, ironically, much like the tides. I will never understand the tides and I have a minor in marine science.
Jun 09, 2022 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zh_tw_hk, 1_fiction
《複眼人》/"The Man with the Compound Eyes" by Wu Ming-Yi (吳明益). Translation by Darryl Sterk. ...more
Moushine Zahr
Jul 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: asia
It was difficult book for me to read, rate and review. There is so much to talk about. There are several levels of readings.

It looks like the author created a fantasy island Wayo Wayo living secluded, in the past, and naturally in one world, which comes in collision with another world against a real life contemporary Thailand through the two leading characters Atile'I and Alice and through a Trash Vortex. Unless the island is just a last undiscovered island ignored by the rest of the world. I c
Jo Eva
Nov 25, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 23, 2021 rated it it was ok
I thought the concept was interesting, and some parts were enjoyable and interesting -- the fabulist Wayo-Wayo, and the stories & traditions of characters like Dahu and Hafay.

There's a moment in the text, though, when one of the characters says she wrote a novel and a short story called "The Man With The Compound Eyes," and I wasn't surprised. This is two works smashed together. Honestly, to me, Alice & Thom and the late-book arrivals (useless -- why were they added?) seem totally superfluous. I
Aug 27, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly beautiful and heartwarming, The Man with the compound eyes sees Wu Ming-Yi take you on a detailed journey with Alice: a suicidal professor, and Atile'i: a 14 year old boy used as a sacrifice to the sea. This is also accompanied with a vast amount of side characters, great detail and attention awarded to each one (sometimes unnecessarily so). And I do think that 'journey' is the only word that can truly describe this book. It wasn't a high action car chase, but more a slow and relaxing ...more
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Writer, painter, designer, photographer, literary professor, butterfly scholar, environmental activist, traveler and blogger rolled into one, Wu Ming-Yi is very much a modern Renaissance Man. Over the last decade, he has produced an impressive body of work, especially with his fiction and nature writing.

Wu Ming-Yi (b.1971) studied advertising at Fu-Jen Catholic University and has a PhD in Chinese

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“So this was what a mountain was like, the same as a person: the more you know, the less you fear.” 7 likes
“In all honesty, I don’t envy you the possession of this power over memory, nor do I admire you. Because humans are usually completely unconcerned with the memories of other creatures. Human existence involves the willful destruction of the existential memories of other creatures and of your own memories as well. No life can survive without other lives, with the ecological memories of other living creatures have, memories of the environments in which the live. People don’t realize they need to rely on the memories of other organisms to survive. You think that flowers bloom in colorful profusion just to please your eyes. That a wild boar exists just to provide meat for your table. That a fish takes the bait just for you sake. That only you can mourn. That a stone falling into a gorge is of no significance. That a sambar deer, its head bent low to sip at a creek is not a revelation . . . When in fact the finest movement of any organism represents a change in an ecosystem.” The man with the compound eyes takes a deep sign and says: “But if you were any different you wouldn’t be human.” 6 likes
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