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The Man with the Compound Eyes

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,344 ratings  ·  192 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 3.84  · 
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 ·  1,344 ratings  ·  192 reviews

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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
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Moushine Zahr
Jul 05, 2018 rated it liked it
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
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
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful and strange. I get the impression that the book was let down a bit by its translation, since the phrasing was occasionally kind of stilted. However it was still quite enjoyable and had some moments that really moved me. Nonlinear magical realism done with a deft touch.

"At first she couldn't understand anything i said, but gradually we have come to recognize the scales and tails of speech, to realise the fish eyes of what the other is saying."
Stella Borthwick
Jul 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
a really beautiful piece of environmental fiction (i'm also obsessed with the cover)
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
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Every kind of animal has its own natural grace, its own dignity. Life has diversified into myriad kinds, each living in its own forthright yet mysterious way upon the earth. Life was not formless like smoke, but had a pattern and a posture.”

Atile’i is a second son on the island of Wayo Wayo, he goes out at sea on the 180th full moon night after his birth to never come back, as established by the god Kabang.
Alice Shih is a university professor who has resolved to take her own life after her par
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is billed as a coming together of an island woman and an island boy, who alter each other's lives forever. The physical driving force is a tsunami in the Pacific. However this coming together does not happen until half way through the book.

This book has rich character development, but is slim on plot. This is not a criticism, just an observation. If you want an action adventure, this book will leave you wanting. If you enjoy well developed characters, this book is for you.

Now to the cr
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2014-books
This last paragraph from the inner dust jacket is an eloquent single-sentence description: "A work of lyrical beauty that combines magical realism and environmental fable, The Man with the Compound Eyes is an incredible story about the bonds of family, the meaning of love, and the lasting effects of human destruction." I wish rating by half-stars would be allowed because this is definitely a 4.5. The only qualm is with the loose threads at the end - characters which had been skillfully construct ...more
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
Shannon Kelleher
Jul 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was recommended to me with the warning 'it's different, don't know if you'll like it'. I'll be honest, for the first half of the book, I wasn't sure whether I liked it or not. The writing is good, if sometimes slow. Having recently read The Three Body Problem, I was concerned that the story wouldn't 'get anywhere' or go circular which was one of my big problems with the Three Body Problem. The last third of the book, really brings everything together, confirms and changes some of the reader ...more
Yet another braided narrative. I'm longing for a story with a constant protagonist. This book was hard to follow. There were quite a few important characters. I had some trouble keeping the various aboriginal Formosan characters straight, because the names were unfamiliar to me.

There were some really lovely passages. Since this was in translation, this may hint that reading this book is a different experience in its original language.

Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I admit to being a bit obsessed about Taiwan but here's another good one based on the island. This book leaves you with a lot of emotion. Mostly sadness about the state of our environment but also fondness for storytelling and the role of storytelling in cultures. Recommend.
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my first book from Taiwan. Having twice visited Taipei recently, I was excited to learn more about the country aside from what I experienced/observed and what I read on the news (mostly about China as well).

I originally thought it deserved five stars because the prose was lyrical and rife with meaning and emotion. Kudos to the author and translator.

Anyway on to my review.

The chapters devoted to Atile'i were my favorite. Wayo-Wayo is a fascinating place with rich tradition and I think
Apr 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: taiwan
This should be more of a 3.5. I very much enjoyed it, up to near the end, where it changed from what I think should be called magic reality (I've watched environmental disasters related to climate change also change Taiwan - half the Shakadang trail is gone, I'll never ever retrace it into the mountains of Hualien County) and into apocalyptic magic realism which, if not for **SPOILERS** the final appearance of a cute cat who, for reasons clear from the book, is evidently an avatar of divine bein ...more
Aug 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This lyrical but rather languid piece of writing concerns a diverse group of characters who are in some way affected by a grotesque island of plastic trash striking the coast of Taiwan. It has not lost any of its topicality in the six years since it was written, with the issue of plastic waste only becoming more urgent and well known. But though humankind's degradation of its environment is the novel's central theme, it stirs up melancholy rather than anger. There is little hope of change for th ...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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In most historical romances, love and marriage go together like...well, a horse and carriage. But what if the girl part of the girl-meets-boy...
43 likes · 17 comments
“So this was what a mountain was like, the same as a person: the more you know, the less you fear.” 6 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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