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Notes of a Crocodile

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Set in the post-martial-law era of late 1980s Taipei, Notes of a Crocodile depicts the coming-of-age of a group of queer misfits discovering love, friendship, and artistic affinity while hardly studying at Taiwan's most prestigious university. Told through the eyes of an anonymous lesbian narrator nicknamed Lazi, Qiu Miaojin's cult classic novel is a postmodern pastiche of diaries, vignettes, mash notes, aphorisms, exegesis, and satire by an incisive prose stylist and countercultural icon.

Afflicted by her fatalistic attraction to Shui Ling, an older woman who is alternately hot and cold toward her, Lazi turns for support to a circle of friends that includes the devil-may-care, rich-kid-turned-criminal Meng Sheng and his troubled, self-destructive gay lover Chu Kuang, as well as the bored, mischievous overachiever Tun Tun and her alluring slacker artist girlfriend Zhi Rou.

Bursting with the optimism of newfound liberation and romantic idealism despite corroding innocence, Notes of a Crocodile is a poignant and intimate masterpiece of social defiance by a singular voice in contemporary Chinese literature.

242 pages, Paperback

First published May 11, 1994

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About the author

Qiu Miaojin

10 books164 followers
Qiu Miaojin (1969–1995) was one of Taiwan’s most innovative literary modernists, and the country’s most renowned lesbian writer. Her first published story, “Prisoner,” received the Central Daily News Short Story Prize, and her novella Lonely Crowds won the United Literature Association Award. While attending graduate school in Paris, she directed a thirty-minute film called Ghost Carnival, and not long after this, at the age of twenty-six, she committed suicide. The posthumous publications of her novels Last Words from Montmartre and Notes of a Crocodile (forthcoming from NYRB Classics) made her into one of the most revered countercultural icons in Chinese letters.

NYRB Classics newsletter - 5/21-20114

- Mr Nicolello

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 611 reviews
Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,232 followers
June 7, 2021
Had a great time discussing this with my book club. Miaojin's ability to create such a fleshed out character as Lazi is really remarkable, and I'm looking forward to giving this another read in the future :).

Reading this for my classics book club on Patreon :).

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Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews968 followers
July 18, 2020
A coming-of-age story set in Taipei during the late eighties, Notes of a Crocodile follows an eclectic bunch of queer college students as they enter their first serious relationships and come to terms with their sexuality and gender identity in a vehemently homophobic milieu. The novel, narrated by the lesbian protagonist Lazi, is divided into eight loosely chronological notebooks, each of which consists of a fast-paced series of short vignettes, diary entries, aphorisms, criticism, and letters. The main plot, focusing on the students’ many trials, features romantic descriptions and philosophical conversations about love, longing, and death. The melodrama and angst of these chapters is counterpointed by bits of wry satire that imagine Taiwan has been invaded by benign humanoid crocodiles, a clear metaphor for the presence of gay people in the nation. Lazi’s voice is unforgettable, and the author perfectly renders the experience of early adulthood for LGBT youth forced to live in the closet.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,027 followers
May 24, 2017
It's so interesting to be reviewing this book of lgbt fiction from Taiwan on the same day that Taiwan's top court rules in favor of gay marriage, the first place in Asia to do so. When Qiu Miaojin was alive (she committed suicide at age 26 in 1995), times were different. Being a lesbian was a bit like being a crocodile in human skin (or vice versa), or so the metaphor goes... I think. Am I the one being too literal in my metaphorical interpretation or is it really that direct?

The writing is a bit piecemeal, collected in notebooks, some longing for a woman who can't ever be hers, some reflecting on the crocodiles that are ostracized yet find each other, reportedly seen and then gather in bars (it gets a little weird.) Other parts wax so beautifully about the love interest that I felt I was reading one of Jeanette Winterson's earlier works like Written on the Body.

Thanks to the publisher for access to a copy through Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews847 followers
August 19, 2019
An occasional pitfall of reading literature from a country other than your own is that you aren’t approaching it with the necessary cultural framework to make it comprehensible. This isn’t always the case, of course; some stories are more universal than others, and some books do a better job of contextualizing the relevant sociopolitical elements. But in Notes of a Crocodile, a book about a group of queer students in Taiwan in the late 80s, I felt desperately out of my depth, and I felt like so many of my attempts to engage with this book were met with stony silence on Qiu Miaojin’s part. But I want to stress that this isn’t a fault of the book itself. I can imagine for the right reader that a book like this would be sensational. Personally I felt like I was missing references and subtleties that a Taiwanese reader (and especially a queer Taiwanese reader) would easily pick up on. I'm glad to have read this book and grappled with it as best I could, but this wasn't the easiest or most comfortable reading experience for me.

Narrated by a nameless protagonist, nicknamed Lazi, Notes of a Crocodile chronicles the trials of a group of queer students living in late 1980s Taipei. It's also punctuated by a series of interludes which imagine that the country have been invaded by humanlike crocodiles; a clear metaphor for a society that sees queerness as an epidemic. (The homophobic obsession of early 1990s Taiwanese media with homosexuality is explained in a little more detail in this LA Review of Books review by Ari Larissa Heinrich, who has translated Miaojin in the past.)

This book is light on plot, and whatever plot does happen usually happens off-page and is narrated to the reader much later; instead the focus is on the internal. To me Lazi felt more like an embodiment of what it means to be queer in Taiwan than an established character in her own right - while we learn almost nothing about her past or her personhood, pages and pages are devoted to philosophizing about what it means to be a woman who loves other women; what it means for your sexuality to be interpreted as a political statement. To me the philosophy ranged from stimulating to repetitive, occasionally too mired in intertextuality to drive any particular point home. This result is a rather rambling meditation that again, I tried to engage with - occasionally successfully, occasionally not.

My other main takeaway from this is is that I think I would have appreciated this book more if I'd read it in my early twenties; I hate to sound callous but the sheer amount of self-destruction in these pages did become tiresome after a while. This book never lets up from its relentless angst and self-absorption, and the whole thing is of course shadowed by the tragedy of Qiu Miaojin's suicide at age 26. I ultimately think this is worth a read, but I think I find Qiu Miaojin herself more intriguing than this particular book.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,199 reviews2,226 followers
May 5, 2021

Very relatable for people in their early 20s with no direction, I loved reading about queer people in a non-western country and the emotions/conversations that come with that, the writing was beautiful and i have so many lighted quotes, very well done.
August 27, 2021
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“Cruelty and mercy are one and the same. Existence in this world relegates good and evil to the exact same status. Cruelty and evil are only natural, and together they are endowed with half the power and half the utility in this world. It seems I’m going to have to learn to be crueler if I’m to become the master of my own fate.”

On the one hand, this was certainly ahead of its time, on the other, I found Qiu Miaojin's brand of angsty nihilism somewhat trite.

Originally published in 1994, Notes of a Crocodile is now considered by many a ‘cult classic’. I was certainly surprised and struck by Miaojin's modernist style and by how on point her discussions surrounding gender, identity, and sexuality were.
In many ways the narrator’s inner conflict regarding her sexuality, desire, and otherness brought to mind Giovanni's Room, but Miaojin's storytelling is far more experimental and uneven than James Baldwin’s one. Notes of a Crocodile's unconventional structure, while certainly unique, does come at the expense of its characters, plot, and story. While I was reading this I couldn’t help but be reminded of Mieko Kawakami's Breasts and Eggs, a novel of hers I did not particularly care for (heaven is so much better in my humble opinion).
Similarly to Breasts and Eggs, Notes of a Crocodile, which is set in 1980s Taipei, seems to be made up of vignettes, many of them featuring one-note secondary characters going on long tangents or monologues in which they vent or harp on about their vices, how existing in a society sucks, how love will inevitably end in pain and violence.
Their voices, more often than not, struck me as exceedingly self-dramatising. They try really hard to paint themselves as these edgy, grungy, tragic figures who are more cottoned on than the rest on the ills of the world. I just found their neverending speeches to be angsty, puerile even. I also kept mixing up some of the characters as they do seem to express themselves very similarly to one another, which was weird given that our narrator when reflecting on her ‘friends’, would attribute to them distinctive characteristics (which they themselves never show). Speaking of, these 'interactions', which make up most of the narrative, are very repetitive. They usually feature our main character and one other person, and, personally, I would like for the characters to interact more with each other (as opposed to having all of these 1-to-1). It didn’t help that I found them all extremely unlikeable and inconsistent (and not in the, they are human, of course they have incongruent, kind of way). The main narrator, nicknamed Lazi, is horrible. While I could definitely sympathise with her struggles (although it is not clearly stated, she likely suffers from depression, often finding the idea of performing everyday activities overwhelming), I just hated the way she treated the woman she was supposedly in love with. Talk about being manipulative! And, at the risk of using an overused word, nearly every single character in this was toxic af (on the lines of: i will beat the shit out of you because i hate that i love you'...).

Lazi’s pessimistic monologues did little for me. They don’t really add anything to her character that we didn’t already know, nor do they offer any particularly challenging or transgressive ideas.
What did keep me interested was the author’s exploration of her characters’ sexualities and gender identities. Lazi is frustrated by how binary gender identity and expression are made to be in her society. She’s also aware that, unlike more ‘feminine’ presenting lesbians, she will have a harder time ‘passing’.
In recounting Lazi’s experiences as a young lesbian woman in 1980s Taipei Miaojin also touches upon themes of normalcy, alterity, alienation, and loneliness.

Throughout the course of the novel, we hear of these ‘crocodiles’. The media seems obsessed with ‘crocodiles’, who occasionally hide themselves by wearing ‘human’ suits. These crocodiles are a metaphor for queerness, and while I appreciated Miaojin’s commentary on how queer people were perceived and treated in 1980s/90s Taiwan, by the end, this whole crocodile business did feel somewhat overdone.
Overall I have rather mixed feelings towards Notes of a Crocodile. Stylistically, well, I found this novel to be too experimental and abstract for my taste. The wannabe-anarchistic characters got on my nerves and the narrative’s tortured and fatalist tone was rather affected. Yet, I was interested in the author’s social commentary and insights into Taiwan's lgbtq+ community during the 80s. I could also definitely relate to many of her observations, speculations, and struggles with queerness. One day I may as well revisit this and find myself reassessing my estimation of this work but for the moment, yeah, I can't say that I was particularly impressed or moved by Notes of a Crocodile.
Profile Image for may ➹.
463 reviews1,852 followers
June 23, 2022
took me 3 months to read this. happy pride

2.5 stars, rtc


as a gaysian I am legally obligated to read (and love) this gaysian classic!

// buddy read with cath!!
Profile Image for Hsinju Chen.
Author 1 book182 followers
Currently reading
September 18, 2021
I first read Notes of a Crocodile (《鱷魚手記》) more than seven years ago. I was a freshman at National Taiwan University, where this book is set and where Qiu studied, but I couldn’t remember a thing about the content of the story. Upon finding out that this book is one of the favorite books of my favorite writer, Carolina De Robertis, I knew I had to reread it sooner than I originally planned. So I ordered another copy in Chinese from Taiwan (I already own a copy, but it is at my parents’ place) and started doing that thing where I read the translated English version and the original version at the same time (I did this for Chi Ta-wei’s The Membranes; here’s my review). This is going to be very enlightening.

Currently reading it, but I’m sure I will understand a lot more of what goes on in the book than I did at 18. Review to come upon finishing it in... maybe November.

Notes: For those who don’t know, Qiu Miaojin was a Taiwanese literary lesbian icon. I went to the same high school and university as she did, 26 years apart.

Buddy reading with E.!
Profile Image for samaa.
137 reviews15 followers
December 10, 2022
if i’m being really and truly honest i don’t think i’m mentally stable enough to have experienced this book in a way that wasnt some form of self h*rm so do with that what u will
Profile Image for Laubythesea.
290 reviews297 followers
August 5, 2022
4,5 ⭐️

‘Apuntes de un cocodrilo’ es la primera obra de la autora taiwanesa Qiu Miaojin, fue publicada en 1994, apenas un año antes de su suicidio a los veintiséis años. Absolutamente desconocida por mi hasta que me crucé con esta obra, es considerada una de las autoras más importante de la literatura lésbica del siglo XX y ya antes de ponerme a investigar sobre ella, solo con leer un par de capítulos, supe que estaba ante algo “importante” para mi vida lectora.

Esta novela, con tintes de autoficción, está organizada en forma de ocho “apuntes”, diarios, que escribe Lazi, la narradora protagonista, durante los años universitarios. A través de ellos, veremos sus vivencias y las de sus seres allegados: parejas, amistades, familiares, teniendo como centro principal una serie de jóvenes queer que van y vienen del día a día de Lazi, que suficiente tiene con lo suyo. Relaciones tóxicas (sin un ápice de romantización de las mismas), amistades inquebrantables, dolor, depresión, risas, fiestas, paseos infinitos, confidencias… y en definitiva, una búsqueda de su lugar en el mundo y de definición de una identidad propia por parte de este crisol de personajes.

La narración se caracteriza por no seguir una estructura convencional, hay una suerte de caos controlado que responde a esa organización en apuntes y al desorden imperante en la vida de Lazi (¿quién tuvo todo bajo control en los años universitarios?). Las anécdotas y recuerdos, a veces lineales, aparecen alternados con referencias al cine francés y la literatura japonesa.

Una lectura apasionante, que me llenó de angustia por las actitudes reales e imperfectas de Lazi, su forma de alejarse del amor de Shuiling, su miedo a sufrir y su ansiedad ante la soledad. Todo lo que no encontré en ‘Normal people’ de Sally Rooney, me lo dio multiplicado por mil ‘Apuntes de un cocodrilo’.

Ah, tal vez os preguntéis, ¿a qué vienen los cocodrilos? Es la forma absolutamente brillante de la autora de representar la conciencia de una sexualidad diversa que aparece en forma de remate o inicio de capítulos y que da para hablar horas. La novela se ambienta, y esto es fundamental, en Taipei a finales de los 80 / principios de los 90, un momento donde Taiwan buscaba desmarcarse de China y entre otras muchas cosas, dejó de condenar la homosexualidad, pero lo cierto es que está no fue aceptada de un día para otro. La puerta se abría, pero muy poquito y sin demasiado apoyo de la sociedad. Ahí veremos a Lazi, verde, con cola y colmillos. Es difícil hablar de esta genial y dolorosa animalización, pero si lo leéis, comentaremos y mucho.

Profile Image for Inderjit Sanghera.
450 reviews84 followers
May 5, 2019
The narrator's melancholic narrative is presented via a series of vignettes; some satirical, some epistolary, some flash-backs and some self-reflections, the narrator's incessant brooding and self-absorption can at times wear thin, with the originality of their style at times being undermined by the streak of fatalism which underlies the narrator's intense feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The narrator is a lesbian who resides in late 1980's Taipei and the novel explores her relationship with the variety of misfits who meander through her life, attempting to break through the barrier of ennui and aloofness which she has constructed around herself. The people she loves are more symbols of her own neuroses and obsessions rather than being relationships she develops and cultivates, their relationship being punctured by a constant series of diatribes and monologues on pain and suffering. The slight issue her, irrespective of how powerful the emotional stories which the narrator is attempting to convey are, is that if all of the relationships in the novel follows this vein, then the reader loses the ability to empathise with the emotional journeys which the characters are going through.

Yet, despite all this, Miaojin's style is jarring and startlingly original; her descriptions of Taipei range from the dour to the delirious and, not only that, but via the satirical descriptions of crocodiles which act as an allegory for the treatment of homosexuals in Taiwan, Miaojin is able to capture the experiences of individuals who were condemned to live on the fringes of society and whose existence would have otherwise remained undocumented.

A powerful and original, if at times flawed novel, the true tragedy of "Notes of a Crocodile" is that it represents the first steps of an artist who was just gaining their voice and vision before their live was tragically cut short. 
Profile Image for David.
638 reviews117 followers
January 13, 2019
This was incredibly sad.

I read it twice.

"Those wrenching eyes, which could lift up the entire skeleton of my being. How I longed for myself to be subsumed into the ocean of her eyes. How the desire, once awakened, would come to scald me at every turn. The scarlet mark of sin and my deep-seated fear of abandonment had given way to the ocean's yearning."

"If we'd been playing it cool like a pair of thieves, it was because our grand heist was drawing near. I anticipated, I schemed, I fretted. I had to be prepared for a deadly siege."

"Tell me, just this once, if you still think of me. And let me recklessly, tenderly, tell you one more time: I love you."

"No matter who I was, no matter how anyone else saw me, no matter whether I knew who I was, somewhere on this planet there was someone who'd completely accept me, who'd been trying to figure me out all along, who genuinely loved me."

"My only salvation - Shui Ling - was as short-lived as a rainbow. What the two of us had was an achievement on par with landing on the moon, then floating in space with zero gravity."

"She'd been silently resisting for a while now. She wanted to avoid me, to get away from me. Meanwhile I was trailing her like a spider gliding along a thread."

"Why didn't I get it? That has to do with my own issues. Ever since I was little and started to learn what it meant to love, I never understood that I had to love me too"

"From the moment of consciousness of love was born, there was no hope of cure. And those four words - no hope of cure - encapsulate my state of suffering to this day. My condition is one that will keep me in shackles for life."

"When Gide left his wife, he told her in a parting letter, 'At your side, I have nearly rotted.'"

"I'm unworthy of loving you. I've struggled to find self-worth, but I can't expel the monster's consciousness still lurking beneath my skin."

"You opened a realm that exposed me. The deeper and harder I fell for you, the more grotesque I felt."

"Having only known unfulfilled yearnings, I thought that love was a long shot, that keeping my pride intact was a far safer bet."

"I left you, this woman, hoping I'd leave no trace of me, this monster, that our connection would disintegrate and be buried in the darkest recesses of your mind, that you'd cross back over to normality - get married, have kids - and live within the boundaries of ordinariness."

"Life is so much more complicated than I ever imagined, and nothing is as easy as it seems. We meet at the border of mutual attraction and repulsion, and between us is a row of thorns. The two of us ... have been ravaged, yet no one can walk away. Tell me, is love - along with honesty, patience, and determination - strong enough? Is it?"

"'Only healthy people are capable of being in love. Using love to treat an illness just makes the illness even worse.'"

"'I thought maybe the answer was in your heart this whole time, and you just couldn't bring yourself to say it out loud. You've been silent toward me, and all this waiting has taken its toll on me. You left me hanging with a question in my heart. Whether or not you admit it, the answer is no, right?'"

"She'd been harboring her love for me like an oyster cultivating a pearl."

"There are times when affection between family members is so deep that emotional burdens become too much to share. When the boundaries are nearly nonexistent, who has the heart to impinge on the other?"

"You punished me by waiting me wait. What was I willing to wait so long for? I waited for a breakthrough in honesty. ... I was in desperate search for some sort of connection."

"Unhealthy love is two people stoking a shared fantasy of desperate beauty, weaponizing passion and desire."

"That was why, at the core of her passion, there was fear. She had rejected love and taught herself to live without intimacy."

"Whether I live or die, I'm doomed all the same"
Profile Image for Hendrik.
394 reviews68 followers
October 18, 2018
Ein Roman für sechzehnjährige Teenymädchen, die gerade eine heftige Adoleszenzkrise durchleben. Mir hat er nur Erschöpfung und Kopfschmerzen bereitet. Leider.
Profile Image for danerys.
448 reviews192 followers
August 18, 2022
✧ ↝ 5 stars

i think that if a book has this many layers to it and makes me feel some kind of way because it appeals to the most emo, gay, melodramatic part of me that there is, then it deserves five stars.

review to come
Profile Image for Will Dominique.
Author 1 book15 followers
June 10, 2018
I guess I’m one of the few who didn’t get the appeal of this book. I found it repetitive and so boring that i had to force myself to finish it by turning off my wifi—otherwise, I kept checking my phone after every couple of paragraphs, and it seemed like it would never finish. I feel like the majority of this novel was telling instead of showing: the author literally tells readers what each character is like and what their relationship with the protagonist is like (“to me, she was [adjective]”, “she was [convoluted or tedious metaphor]”, over and OVER again), and while Miaojin shows snippets of interactions, they are so brief, out of context, and jarring that it feels like there is no live development of any relationships. I feel like I just listened to a 3 hour lecture at school about someone’s personal life whom I didn’t really care about. I had been interested by the blurb, but 75% of the way through the book, I was STILL legitimately waiting to meet the characters it was supposedly about; I was honestly shocked when I realized whom they had been this whole time, as I did /not/ get any sort of impression from most of the characters. This could be due to the translation, maybe; I feel like many of my issues stemmed from the language being unnecessarily wordy and unclear. Like, me not realizing two of the main characters are lesbians until Lazi finally goes and point-blank says “they were in love” seems like a failure to convey a pretty essential aspect of characterization. I did wonder, but I feel like I waited for too long (basically until their last appearances) for that reaffirmation. Same thing goes for Lazi’s self-harm; I honest to god thought all this “burning” was metaphorical and her just being melodramatically “poetic”. This went on even after she talked about her “wounds” and when this guy yelled, “You have to stop hurting yourself!” I thought it was spiritual/emotional because it’s NEVER clear that she’s actually holding a damn lighter or match or any physical object. Lazi never really feels like she occupies physical space; she ends up at different places, in different times, with different people, and it all jumps around without much transition.

At one point, I thought this might be what it would be like if John Green tried to write a lesbian teen angst story for adults. Shfjksjfk

Another thing i noticed is not a single character uses the word “queer” in the entire manuscript, yet apparently (according to the blurb) they’re all queer. Hmm.
Profile Image for Subashini.
Author 5 books149 followers
October 13, 2017

Miaojin is able to draw on the particularities of their individual dispositions without making the impossibility of queer relationships, at that precise historical moment in Taiwan, seem like the result of mere problems with individuals. In fact, all of these unhappy queer people in love with people they can’t be with begin to add up to a problem that is more than just personal failings. “I remember back in high school, we were a bunch of misfits, always having fun. There was something going on every day. We were part of a community. Now life’s all about being tied down by a man,” says Tun Tun, summing up the central issue of the book: how to live a life of queer imaginaries outside of the strictures of heteronormative society. In another conversation that Lazi has with Chu Kuang about his relationship with Meng Sheng, he tells her, “How about if the three of us agree to have post-gender relations? I’m done talking about it. In the end, all three of us have been seriously warped by gender labels.”

An excerpt from my review, available in full here: http://www.popmatters.com/column/note...
Profile Image for Jerrie.
978 reviews124 followers
May 27, 2017
This book provides a very introspective look into the life of a college student who seems to suffer from depression and a lot of guilt over her sexuality. She struggles over her love for a woman who is very unreliable and is tormented by this. In the way of the very young, she can often come across as whiny or melodramatic. Still, this was an interesting look at how homosexual students in Taiwan in the late 80s dealt with societal pressures.
Profile Image for Enya.
536 reviews43 followers
October 26, 2022
I decided to make a playlist of all the songs that were mentioned in this book, here it is. I liked every single song and it gave me more of a feel for the novel.
EDIT: If the link doesn't work, try to copy this in your browser: youtube.com/playlist?list=PLl32QKhy3M... or type "Notes of a Crocodile braincabbage" in the YouTube search bar (braincabbage is my YouTube channel, and it's a public playlist)

My rating is probably a little rounded up from something more like 4.5 stars, because I wasn't getting into it for some time, but once I was hooked I really liked it. The narration was in a kind of vignette style of short fragments. At first I felt it was contrived, but after a while I began to enjoy these vignettes and I started to get a feel for the characters.

It reminded me a little of other gay classic literature, such as Giovanni's Room, in that this same-sex attraction often seems to be perceived as a limit, a bad habit, or a fatalistic sort of life corrupter. It makes me sad that these people were not capable of imagining a healthy, sustainable mutual love with a future, and in doing so, this pessimistic outlook on same-sex relationships often became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems that the author felt the same way as her characters, with the way things went for her. It's strange to think how different things were for LGBT people not too long ago. While we still have problems with a higher rate of mental illness in the community, it has become a lot better. I might not have had good luck so far in my dating life, but I never felt that a good long-term same-sex relationship was impossible. But anytime I read a queer classic, I get the sense that the societal persecution of the times has pervaded our predecessors' imaginations and sense of self-worth. Sure, remnants of that still exist. But a lot of progress has been made.

Okay, I talked very little about the book and more about what it made me think about. But I think that's part of why I liked it, that it made me think about things. All in all, I count it among my favourites and will buy Last Words from Montmartre soon.
Profile Image for Brett Glasscock.
88 reviews5 followers
July 14, 2022
"how full it is in bloom, this rose that grows in a wasteland."

wow wow wow. i don't even know where to start with this book. it is an anti-bildungsroman wrapped in a fictional diary punctuated by satirical vignettes that imagine crocodiles invading taiwan. "notes of a crocodile" is beautiful, annoying, tender, melodramatic, boring, painful, queer (as in political, as in queering the text, as in queer communities, as in queer love, as in new ways of being in relation). the story follows a nameless narrator (nicknamed "lazi," which later became slang for lesbian in chinese because of this book's influence) who goes to college, falls in and out and in and out of love, graduates, and upon graduation writes eight notebooks reminiscing on the past four years. lazi is self destructive and selfish. she sucks. we read four years of her destroying her own life and it is just so fucking effective. it isn't always great; sometimes characters just lecture each other about abstractions for pages on end, but it always works. no other book i've read has so perfectly nailed that specific late-teens early-twenties emotional state where every single feeling is the end of the world. i think the sentence i quoted is the thesis of the book. this book bloomed wasteland of feeling and it has thorns and it is beautiful.

"tell me, just this once, if you still think of me. and let me recklessly, tenderly, tell you one more time: I love you."

"to paint a picture of our embrace, i'd almost have to use her blood and guts."
Profile Image for Rachel Lu.
142 reviews16 followers
November 16, 2022
“What is the human race anyway, but a multitude of outlets for desires?” Meng Sheng asks the narrator halfway through the postmodernist novel Notes From a Crocodile. “Desires teach us lessons, and we have to go forth into the new worlds that we construct for ourselves … When you can’t, that’s when you die” (110).

This death-desire predicament is one that the characters, an eclectic mix of angsty, queer college students, find themselves mired in for the entirety of Notes From a Crocodile, a collection of eight notebooks written during the unnamed narrator’s time in college interpolated with brief satirical/surrealist accounts of crocodile sightings in late-80s era Taipei.

Enveloped in the throes of passion but then reaching a sudden impasse with their unreciprocated love (or just finding themselves in an extremely complicated situation because no one in this book communicates and they all love to self-destruct and self-sabotage!!), the characters find themselves plunged into sudden abject misery that leaves them listlessly waiting for death. Struggling to find an outlet for their desire, they enter a destructive cycle of emotional and physical (self-)harm.

The crocodile sections follow a separate narrative, unrelated to the world of the collegiate characters but clearly thematically related in its commentary on queer existence. As the mainstream becomes aware of the existence of crocodiles, everyone becomes crocodile crazy—there’s a continued media frenzy over crocodiles, people with PhDs are theorizing about crocodile ontology, the government becomes involved and demands crocodiles to out themselves (they wear human suits to hide), everyone, basically, is curious about but threatened by crocodiles. The crocodile protagonist goes into hiding and, well, let’s just say there’s not a great ending for him.

There’s a clear connection between the crocodile, who hides in a human suit as society begins to fear the “deviant crocodile” who may infect humans with their crocodileness and blame the crocodile for instability of society, and the novel’s queer characters. Early on, Lazi writes about fearing her sexual desires:

“To this day, I’ve never understood my fear. Where does it come from? … It felt like the fear was coming from inside me … I had no hand whatsoever in shaping the self that was crawling with fear. Yet I grew exactly into that: a carnal being stirring the cement of fear with every step toward adulthood. Since I feared my sexual desires and who I fundamentally was, fear stirred up even deeper fears. My life was reduced to that of some hideous beast. I felt as if I had to hide in a cave, lest anyone discover my true nature.” (54)

Fear, desire, hatred, love, ennui and bliss all messily collide within the pages of Lazi’s journal. Notes From a Crocodile chronicles the struggle of out-of-control bodies and bodies that refused to be controlled—even if by their own selves.

I'll end this review on this note, something Meng Sheng tells Lazi as he takes her around the city on his motorcycle: “To have paid such a high price to live, only to die! Don’t tell me that I don’t have the right to say no thanks” (42).
Profile Image for Anna.
1,631 reviews600 followers
January 20, 2018
I picked this novel up at random in the library, knowing nothing about it beyond the blurb. Having read it, I wish there had been an afterword to tell me more about the author and cultural context in which it was written. Without that, I found it atmospheric yet oblique. The format is of a diary or set of reflections written by Lazi, a emotionally turbulent and self-destructive undergraduate student. She’s attracted to women and troubled by it, as her social milieu is implied to be very homophobic. Her friendships and romantic entanglements are all terribly overwrought, which reminded me of the emotional dramas I observed during my own undergraduate years. The chaotic nature of all this drama can become a bit wearing, though. I wanted more context for it, as I have no idea about what late 1980s Taiwan was like. My favourite element of the book was the interjection of allegorical chapters about a crocodile, clearly a metaphor for being queer. These were slyly witty, implying a voyeuristic fascination with and fear of LGBTQ people in popular culture:

From the standpoint of developmental psychologists, crocodiles were an aberrant species. In accordance with their discipline’s understanding of crocodile families, their research indicated distinct differences from humans at every stage of development from birth to puberty as well as in maturity, though details had yet to be ascertained. There was a general consensus, however, that up the age of fourteen, crocodiles a homemade ‘human suit’ before running away from home. While exact causes remained unknown, scholars cited societal attitudes as a factor in crocodile mutation, suggesting that there was no means of preventing an increase in the number of emergent crocodiles, which would ultimately contribute to a broader societal trend toward a full-fledged crocodile ecology and genetic mutation.

Such deadpan chapters provide a striking contrast the very messy reality of Lazi’s life and those of her friends. The three stars I’m giving ‘Notes of a Crocodile’ reflect a lack of contextual knowledge on the part of the reader, rather than the book as such. A translator’s note, or similar, would have been very helpful.
18 reviews2 followers
November 2, 2020
rereading this 4 years later—half a year after graduating college, & a few days after pride just took place in Taiwan!—in the original Mandarin felt momentous. i'm so fucking grateful!!! what read as wonderfully oblique in English is so much more emotionally & intellectually legible to me in Taiwanese Mandarin. some vignettes deliciously snag at the best snippets of college life, like running into a friend you don't see much but always bump hearts with when you meet, or pausing to look up at the sky in a particular moment & swearing to yourself you won't forget the sight (but, invariably, you do). others make you feel like you're at a sleepover with a close friend with whom you have a sapphic dynamic, pingponging big ideas & small feelings at each other with playful care. & then there's the self-loathing, the way life & death are so deeply implicated by love & desire & none of the characters can disentangle themselves from the convoluted man-woven web we call,, gender ,,. there's a throbbingly nonbinary, anti-gender resonance throughout that i don't entirely think the translation did justice (or maybe i was just a less discerning reader then). this is a series of notebooks full of the most emotional moments of a very emotional person's life. that's so good??

loving someone & letting yourself be loved is so hard! that's the sad shout at the core of this novel. it's not afraid of making hasty proclamations about the nature of love, desire, love-desire, life, cruelty, et cetera. it's melodramatic glut through & through, punctuated by a distinctly Taiwanese levity, & then the amazing introspection / generalizing slant of the diary format. there's so much precocity embedded here: a refusal to become human, the way the allegory snuggles up against & then trades seats with the real, the abstract filmic ekphrasis that places the book itself in scene at the end, an understanding that ownership kills beauty & vitality, a radical resistance to being pinned down. grrr i love u Chiu Miao-chin i hope u are at rest.
Profile Image for Sharanya Subramaniam.
36 reviews21 followers
February 20, 2018
Trigger warning: Depression.

Well, there are some books that leave an indelible mark on our souls. This is one of those books. It will latch onto your memory and appear nonchalantly throughout your life, to remind you how it made you feel. The raw emotions in this book are just so... hard to digest. Hits you in the gut and kicks you hard, even after you have collapsed.

The story is set in Taiwan in the 1990s, where being queer was still frowned upon. The book describes the story of an unnamed narrator, through her life as a closeted lesbian and her struggle to fit into the society. There seems to be a blurring of fact and fiction given the background of the author. The staggered storytelling, in my opinion, added a new dimension to the story. It brought about a completeness to the character's neurotic mind. I didn't care much for the parallel crocodile plot, but didn't mind it either.

It is so fascinating that some humans can perceive emotions of such a depth throughout their life, when others can just cakewalk through it unscathed. I wish I could reach out to her through the pages and give her a hug. No one deserves to feel that way.

Read this book, if you love reading about different perspectives in life, if you can stomach depressive settings or if you just want to feel thankful about your life.
Profile Image for Emily.
65 reviews62 followers
March 23, 2021
"I am a woman who loves women. The tears I cry, they spring from a river and drain across my face like yolk."

God... what a beautiful book. Djuna Barnes and Murakami had a lesbian lovechild and she is beautiful! Very touching and memorable book and an important part of the lesbian canon, especially for East Asia. Definitely don't miss out on this one especially if you enjoy modernist works on principle otherwise it might be a little bizarre and depressing for you. Can't recommend enough.
Profile Image for Fizzy.
107 reviews
October 26, 2021
“𝙄 𝙬𝙞𝙨𝙝 𝙄 𝙘𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙛𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙞𝙣 𝙡𝙤𝙫𝙚 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙖 𝙢𝙖𝙣, 𝙗𝙪𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙩𝙤𝙤 𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙮 𝙗𝙚𝙖𝙪𝙩𝙞𝙛𝙪𝙡 𝙬𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙣.”

four sapphic, stormy stars for this book that could only be described as a delicious mix of yearning, friendship and some more yearning.

“𝙒𝙝𝙚𝙣 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙨𝙡𝙚𝙚𝙥 𝙣𝙚𝙭𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙢𝙚, 𝙄 𝙨𝙪𝙛𝙛𝙚𝙧, 𝙄 𝙨𝙖𝙞𝙙.”

i loved this book. it was a five star read for me for the most part. but, at times, the translation got a little tricky and unclear. so one star, sadly, was lost to that.

while the narrator and most of the cast of characters is blue and for the most part, having a hard time coming in terms with their sexuality and what it means, there is this lovely vibe to the book.

just as this book took the found family trope to the max, it also took the morally grey characters trope to a new level by introducing chu kuang and meng sheng. i loved them but hated them but still kind of loved them.

i loved how author used crocodiles to talk about the struggles of LGBTQIA+ community and reading those chapters was a whole experience altogether.

and can we talk about how much of a simp Lazi was :

"𝙄𝙩 𝙨𝙝𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙗𝙚 𝙚𝙫𝙞𝙙𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙗𝙮 𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙄 𝙘𝙖𝙣’𝙩 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙘𝙚𝙞𝙫𝙖𝙗𝙡𝙮 𝙙𝙚𝙥𝙞𝙘𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙬𝙤𝙢𝙖𝙣. 𝙄𝙣 𝙬𝙧𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙢𝙪𝙘𝙝, 𝙄’𝙫𝙚 𝙖𝙡𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙙𝙮 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙢𝙣𝙚𝙙 𝙢𝙮𝙨𝙚𝙡𝙛 𝙩𝙤 𝙛𝙖𝙞𝙡𝙪𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙙𝙤𝙣𝙚 𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙖𝙣 𝙞𝙣𝙟𝙪𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙘𝙚."

in a nutshell, i loved this book because all of the simping, yearning, cursing and unavoidable streaks of blue were relatable af.
Profile Image for Frankie.
464 reviews120 followers
September 17, 2022
It didn’t matter what kind of person I was inside, how I yearned for a bond with Xiao Fan, or if my desire to love her had been my undoing: The world didn’t care. It was nothing personal. Even the woman right in front of me was telling me no. There was no right or wrong here. In the end, the world didn’t owe me anything, not even half a chance. That was the hand I’d been dealt in life, and while detachment was enough for me to withstand hatred, extricating myself from the jaws of suffering called for enough detachment to exercise cruelty.

4.5 stars.

Reading this was like a fever dream. I couldn't stop. I had to obsessively unravel the story, waiting for something terrible to happen. But the only truly terrible thing that happened was that I felt viciously seen.

Most readers don't like the narrator's fatalism and melodrama. But that's exactly why I loved this book so much. Learning that the author killed herself at the age of 26 put this book in a new light. It reminds me of other raw semi-autobiographical novels of youthful melancholy: Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Dazai Osamu's No Longer Human. Qiu is so well-read; her narrator makes constant references to Western and Eastern films and literature, so I'm sure she must have read those books. I desperately want to know what she thought of them.

But unlike those other books, the reason Notes of a Crocodile pierced me so deeply is because it is a lesbian woman's chronicle of all her deepest, darkest thoughts and desires. I was shocked at how relatable it was; at how many thoughts and feelings we shared — bad, shameful, unspeakable ones, really. Perhaps it's because we are both Asian lesbians; perhaps it's because she was born much too early. Either way, it touched me in a way English sapphic books don't.

The only reason this is a 4.5 is because it feels disjointed and confusing at times, like you're missing context. I imagine it makes more sense if you're reading in Chinese. I read an article about its historical context. Despite Taiwan's modern reputation as a beacon for Asian gay rights, it wasn't always that way, and unfortunately Qiu was alive during a dark time. But her books, while published posthumously, became a beacon, and until now she lights the way for readers like me.

Otherwise, the translation is fantastic. It's poetic, fluid, and flows so naturally that you would think it was originally written in English. I can't imagine how hard that is to do, so kudos to the translator.

Also, there isn't much plot to this short book. It is literally a compilation of journals, so you get slice-of-life vignettes and endless monologues. The other characters are really just a vehicle for the author to express her philosophy. It isn't for everyone, but it cut me to the core and I'll be thinking about it for a long time.
Profile Image for Jo.
625 reviews59 followers
July 28, 2018
I think this is one of the books where I can appreciate a lot about it but not necessarily enjoy it although up until Laxi’s relationship with Xiao Fan I was relatively engaged. If this was a novel written in the U.S. or U.K set 2018, the obsessive and self-destructive behavior around relationships by a group of college kids would probably have driven me nuts although I am aware that when I was that age, I probably channeled elements of this at one time or another.

What elevates it though is the fact these are characters coming to terms with their sexuality at a time when being queer was not generally accepted or understood - although I understand that Taiwan is now one of the most progressive countries in Asia regarding LGBTQ rights. Qiu Miaojin uses the symbol of a crocodile, dressing up in human skin to convey this idea of queerness as something other, as something to be hidden and for others to be both scared and perversely fascinated by. It works as a symbol but still the sections of the book that focused on this were often confusing and interrupted the flow of the overall narrative.

The novel shows how the society of the time was regimented and had high expectations and definitions of success that put further pressure on young people. College gave them the space and distance to shy away from expectations while at the same time leaving them rootless without support or purpose. Shiu Ling makes the remark that while at high school she had several close friends, in her college life she is surrounded by people but has never been so lonely while Laxi locks herself away in an array of different apartments and sleeps to stop from feeling.

Laxi’s relationship with Shui Ling is full of quiet drama and seems to be torture for them both but that with Xiao Fan just becomes endless dialogue rehashing the same points in slightly different ways and I found myself not caring. I cared far more about the friendships Laxi had with Meng Sheng and Chu Kuang, Tun Tun and Zhi Rou which didn’t lead to such self-destructive, apathetic behavior which often felt suffocating to read.

Having said all this, I’m glad I read this as a window in to what it was like to be queer and young in this time and place and I think if she’d lived longer Qiu Miaojin would have been an interesting writer to watch. As it is, it’s hard to read the novel without the awareness of this young author in your mind and therefore see much of it as sadly autobiographical.
Profile Image for Melanie.
543 reviews298 followers
July 11, 2018
This book told in 8 notebooks is very reminiscent of the diary of a teenager. Full of angst, frustration, infatuations, self-doubt, exhiliration, downcast moods. Lazi, a Taiwanese teenager/young adult, finds that she is attracted to women, not that easy in 1989 Taiwan. Yet at the same time, her being a lesbian does not make this a difficult coming out story, as someone else in the Read Around the World Book Club said, Lazi happens to be a lesbian, but it is not her only defining characteristic. Yes, there is shame, there is the feeling that she is like a crocodile in a human outfit and the crocodile is really nice only if people could see that. The story is told non-linear, we jump about, thoughts are incoherent, sometimes very clear and then repeated again. And the expectation that a completed notebook ends a narrative part is not met for the reader, the same ground is gone over and over again, because that's how adolescent minds work. I think the sheer brilliance of the book is really that she captures that emotional upheaval of being young so wonderfully.

Read for the Read Around the world Bookclub
Profile Image for Zoë Howard.
85 reviews1 follower
August 23, 2022
Have never felt more seen or understood abzhxhxisn Qiu Miaojin put into words all of the thoughts/emotions I have never been able to describe—

“My life was extraordinarily lacking in all sense of reality, as if I were watching a different me playing various characters within a mirage. I wanted to be kicked out into reality so badly. . . .”

“Someday you'll find someone who's the total package. Right now you're sowing your oats, and that's not a bad thing. Life is a process of awakening by degrees, in depth and in scope. At its most profound moments, you experience wholeness.”

“On how to love well: Instead of embracing a romantic ideal, you must confront the meaning of every great love that has shattered, shard by shard.”

Profile Image for ♡.
144 reviews4 followers
August 24, 2022
i love reading books abt gay people living in a country (in this book’s case: taiwan) in the 20th century where homophobia is a societal norm and we have to see them going thru several layers of repression and internalized homophobia. knowing the context of this book (especially the author dying by suicide not long after this book was published) is kinda heartbreaking, but several of this book’s English translated quotes hit so hard. The magical realist vibe of this book can be kinda jarring to some ppl, but this book gives a rly poignant view to the lgbt community in 1980s/90s Taiwan.
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