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Green Island

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  2,017 ratings  ·  317 reviews
A stunning story of love, betrayal, and family, set against the backdrop of a changing Taiwan over the course of the twentieth century.

February 28, 1947: Trapped inside the family home amid an uprising that has rocked Taipei, Dr. Tsai delivers his youngest daughter, the unnamed narrator of Green Island, just after midnight as the city is plunged into martial law. In the fo
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published February 23rd 2016 by Knopf
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Shawna I really liked Fires of the Dragon. The George Kerr book Formosa Betrayed is a great primer on the transition era from Japanese to KMT. Forbidden Nati…moreI really liked Fires of the Dragon. The George Kerr book Formosa Betrayed is a great primer on the transition era from Japanese to KMT. Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan offers a 400 year overview.(less)

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 ·  2,017 ratings  ·  317 reviews

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Feb 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
A brutal, beautifully written family epic that is set during the political turmoil in post-WWII Taiwan. The story of the Tsai family spans six decades and is seamlessly woven around actual events. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys realistic historical fiction and enjoys deeply touching stories about family.

Something had happened here once, but other things had too, and life went on. We have to remind ourselves to remember

The youngest daughter of the Tsai family is born in Taipei on
“The people have realized that Martial Law is not law. A regime not established by law is devoid of the attribute to dispense law. A regime which puts in a bunker the highest law in the land does not have the moral authority to say that nobody is above the law.”

----Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Shawna Yang Ryan, an award winning American author, pens her new book, Green Island: A novel , that unfolds the story of a Taiwanese family living in Taipei when the Martial Law was incorporated and changed the f
Connie G
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Green Island" is a family saga and political novel about the Tsai family in Taiwan. Taiwan had been a prosperous Japanese colony before Japan's defeat in World War II. After the war, Taiwan was under the military dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT, the Chinese Nationalist Party). Chiang Kai-shek used Taiwan as a base for the KMT when Mao Zedong's Communist party took over mainland China.

After a brutal incident on February 28, 1947, the fictional Dr Tsai gave a short speech at a c
Wilhelmina Jenkins
A very good book. I always enjoy books that introduce me to aspects of history with which I am unfamiliar. Growing up in the '50s and '60s, I always thought of Taiwan as a part of China where the enemies of Mao Tse-tung were making a futile stand in order to retake the Chinese government - a completely Cold War viewpoint. I never considered the existence of the indigenous people of Taiwan or their struggle against the oppressive Kuomintang who took over their island, much less their earlier hist ...more
I picked up Green Island during a "Best of Goodreads" sale on Amazon. This was in the 1st round pick of the Best Historical Novel for 2016. I've pondered this for several months and I simply don't have the bandwidth to craft the kind of review it deserves, but here it goes. The themes in this one include human frailty, courage, family, mental illness, entitlement, importance of lineage, honor, loyalty, integrity, pride, shame.

Green Island is the story of Taiwan's violent and tumultuous history b
Book Riot Community
Shortly after Dr. Tsai delivers his daughter, the unnamed narrator of the novel, he is taken away to prison during an uprising in Taiwan. When he returns to his family ten years later, he is a different man. The narrator's relationship with her broken father will color her relationships and decisions later on in her life, when she is a mother and wife living in the United States. Green Island is a powerful tale of love and survival and the price of freedom.

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Blaine DeSantis
Jun 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. And before I review it, I wanted to say that I have been on Goodreads for over a decade and never really got into having "friends." This summer my daughter had a college class with Jenny who has the Reading Envy blog and after my daughter raved about her in class I became a Goodreads friend of hers, which begat other friends and thanks to those friendships I saw a lot of interest in this book, Green Island. I was the first person to get it from our library and was captivated f ...more
Nov 04, 2015 rated it liked it
I don’t know nearly enough about Taiwan and its complicated history, which fact swiftly became apparent as I read Green Island. Ryan’s novel covers a sweeping number of years, focusing on the ripple effects within one family of the father’s decade-long imprisonment by Chinese nationalists. His family assumes he is dead, and his youngest daughter, our main character, can’t even remember what her father looked like because she was an infant when he was taken away. Imagine the tectonic shift that o ...more
May 29, 2019 marked it as dnf
DNF @ 20%

I must reiterate that this isn’t bad by any means, it’s just a bit too heavy for what I want right now. Recommended (based on what I’ve read of the book) for fans of historical fiction and 20th century East Asian history.
aPriL does feral sometimes

The writing talent of author Shawna Yang Ryan in 'Green Island', which in conveying the emotional toll of what being born and living in a totalitarian state under martial law requires of families, friends, and marriage, is absolutely tremendous. Ryan should win an award for 'Green Island'. As far as I am concerned, this novel stands side by side with George Orwell's '1984'.

What increased my shock and horror is 'Green Island' is fictionalized history, not simply a literary extrapolation. The exp
Mar 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A really wonderful book. She writes of Taiwan, briefly of the island as a Japanese colony, more about the violent takeover of the island by Chiang Kai Shek and is mainland Chinese, and the unspoken of consequences to the Taiwanese people of the US recognition of the People's Republic of China.

This book is particularly poignant to me, because I lived in Taiwan twice - 1971 to 1972 and then in 1979 to 1980. The story of the mainland Chinese takeover of the island was a taboo topic, as was their r
Trigger warnings: torture, murder, stillbirth.

3.5 stars.

I'd heard this billed as a family saga, but really it covers the story of Taiwan during the course of one woman's life, from 1947 to 2003. It's a compelling story, particularly once the protagonist moves to the US and she's dealing with her husband's involvement in Taiwanese politics and its impact on her life.

What I wasn't so keen on here was the omnipresent narrator. When you've got a first person narrative of events that happened when
Mar 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wow, I just love when a book educates you on a time in history that you have been completely unaware of. Ryan pulls off a magnificent literary feat by tackling six decades set in Taiwan over the course of the twentieth century. It is horrific what so many endured during this time and begins with the story of the unnamed narrator's father being captured because he is suspected of Communist activities. He is kept for over a decade in brutal and inhumane conditions. It then follows his return home, ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
To call Green Island a devastating tale of idealism versus oppression might be true, but it would also be an oversimplification of this family saga spanning decades and continents. A harrowing journey through history, memory, rebellion, betrayal and forgiveness (or was it acquiescence?), the novel is more than anything a reminder of the multitudes who suffer unredeemed beneath the boot heel of repressive regimes. Also...a beautiful love story.
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars - I have lived in Taiwan for ten years and this book taught me a few things. I cried on the bus on the way home tonight when I got to the final ten or so pages. A harrowing journey through history, memory, rebellion, betrayal and forgiveness (or was it acquiescence?), the novel is more than anything a reminder of the multitudes who suffer unredeemed beneath the boot heel of repressive regimes. I'd like to know more about the she from Taiwan or Hawai'i? I am originally from ...more
Chanda Prescod-weinstein
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This novel is a tremendous contribution to American literature. Yang Ryan deftly manages the conflicting and complicated narratives of good and evil, good and bad that are foisted upon the colonized by colonizers. She captures the way it divides families and even individuals inside of themselves. For me it was personally an important read as the wife of a Taiwanese American whose family is mirrored in many ways in the story. It helped me to see in many ways why my husband and I, a Black and Jewi ...more
Rob Hocking
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is another book written by an ICLP alumni:

The book is historical fiction about the "White Terror" period in Taiwan running roughly from 1947 to 1990ish, when Taiwan was under martial law. At the start of this period, Taiwan (which had been a Japanese colony for fifty-ish years) had just been returned to "China". I've used quotation marks because at the time Taiwan was taken, China was ruled by the Qing Dynasty, which had since been overthrown. The Na
Cian O hAnnrachainn
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
We read fiction for entertainment, but often a novel can teach us something as well. Shawna Yang Ryan's GREEN ISLAND is such a book, one of those rare works of fiction that is so grounded in reality that you can't help but keep turning the pages.

Set in Taiwan, the novel delves into the life of ordinary people living under what was a dictatorship, even though the world saw the island as some hazy haven for liberty in the face of Communist aggression. The real government of China ruled there, unti
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book is intriguing in terms of the topic and the historical period it represents. However, the writing is riddled with serious quirks (and this cannot only be a matter of style).

The awkward sentences and use of language are jarring. Here are a few lines, among many, that left me scratching my head about what was meant and how to re-write these sentences to be both more clear and more evocative. Ok, just more clear would have been sufficient.

1. "Baba didn't have to punch or pound. The steel
Aug 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terrifying and horrific, this tale of Taiwan through the years of occupation by the Japanese and then Communist China, is a haunting tale of murder and fright as seen in the lives of one family. Confusion, subterfuge, lack of trust. A word or a look in Berkeley can have a disastrous effect in Taiwan. Unforeseen consequences for seemingly- innocent actions. A must read.
Apr 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First, I want to say, I just so happened to finish The Generalissimo's Son: Chiang Ching-Kuo and the Revolutions in China and Taiwan by Jay Taylor before reading 'Green Island', and I am thankful I read those books in that order (for my own edification at least). Even though I grew up in Taiwan during my formative years I did not really understand what was going on in the late seventies/early eighties as far as politics. Looking back, it was too taboo to bring up those kinds of topics, plus what ...more
Fiona Yang
Mar 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ryan beautifully weaves six decades of Taiwan’s tumultuous and violent history into the lives of the Tsai family. Narrated by the youngest daughter of the Tsai family, the book starts off on the night the 228 Massacre begins. In the following weeks, tens of thousands of men disappear, one of whom is the narrator’s father.

What better way to remake society, my mother thought, than to eliminate the teachers and principals, the students, the lawyers and doctors—truly, anybody who had an opinion and
Christopher Berry
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Just finished this beautifully written novel! This is the first time I have read anything by Shawna Yang Ryan, and I throughly enjoyed this.

In the story, you meet the family of a Taiwanese doctor and his family, and go on a harrowing journey with them during the Taiwanese uprising in 1947. The family is torn apart, when Dr Tisang is taken away from his family, and imprisoned for 11 years.

The story is told beautifully. There are some twists in the story you would not necessarily see coming. I lo
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing

I am so impressed with this author. The author's prose, characters, emotion, moral questioning, and ability to highlight deeper human truths is incredible. On top of all of that, the author delivered a solid dose of 20th century Taiwanese history and made it so critical to the plot that I was completely enthralled the entire time. This book starts with the (incorrectly named) 2-28 massacre in 1947, in which tens of thousands of Taiwanese died or disappeared in a tumultuous time as the KMT c
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a first generation Taiwanese american, this book means a lot to me. It details the history of Taiwan and its identity in a way I've previously mostly learned through my father's stories. The writing and prose itself are extremely good. I have minor gripes with some of the pacing and voice consistency, but these were pretty irrelevant to the larger importance of this book. It is a rare and wonderful experience to read a book and feel so thoroughly emotionally connected. ...more
Dec 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
>>I received an ARC of this book from Goodreads.<<

I'm almost finished with this book. I've come to find out that reading a person's story—even a fictional one—from birth to adulthood can be quite exhausting! That's not a bad thing at all and I feel it shows how much I've gotten into the book that I'm exhausted. Kind of like I've been this person. I've got a biiiit less than a 100 pages to go after reading this for some months and I thought I should write something now anyway since my feelings ha
Katie Harder-schauer
I received a copy of this book through Penguin's First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

This book is fiction, which I only know because I checked about a quarter of the way through reading it, but it reads like an incredibly interesting memoir. This book spans like 60 years, sixty intense years (some more intense than others of course). There are several events in the book that seem insanely unrealistic to me, an American who has never lived under an oppressive regime, and they a
Kenneth Iltz
Feb 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-books
Green Island – a novel - by Shawna Yang Ryan.

First, some history: The Dutch and Spanish claimed Taiwan in the 17th Century but they were booted out during the same century when China claimed the island. Following the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, the Qing Dynasty ceded the island to Japan.

In 1945, following the end of World War II, the Republic of China (ROC), led by the Kuomintang (KMT), took control of Taiwan. In 1949, after losing control of mainland China to Mao, the ROC government unde
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
So much to say about this book... where to begin?
First off, it is beautifully written. I really enjoyed Ryan's writing style. It is eloquent, and immersive and easy to follow. The first half of the book, the Taiwan years, I found to be more intriguing than the second half. The second half felt a bit slow in one or two places, but overall I loved that the story spanned so many decades. The reader is able to watch the tumultuous evolution of Taiwan through the narrow lens of this family.

But the st
Feb 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc
I was immediately immersed in the first section of this book. The storytelling is good with plenty of foreshadowing and I was really starting to care about the characters.

The narrator's father gets caught up with Chinese Nationalists who are snuffing out all forms of perceived threats against their leadership in Taiwan, and the father has said the wrong thing at the wrong time in front of the wrong people. When he disappears, the family is forever changed and eventually learns to live without hi
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SHAWNA YANG RYAN is a former Fulbright scholar and the author of Water Ghosts (Penguin Press 2009) and Green Island (Knopf 2016). She is the Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Her writing has appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Asian American Literary Review, The Rumpus, Lithub, and The Washington Post. Her work has received the Association for Asian American St ...more

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