Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi

The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi
First published in Chinese in Taiwan by Rye Field Publishing in 2015. English language translation by Darryl Sterk published by Text Publishing Company on the 26th October 2017.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Flying Birds

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cheng, a novelist, once wrote a book about his father's disappearance twenty years ago. One day he receives a reader's email asking whether his father's bicycle disappeared as well. Perplexed and amused, Cheng decides to track down the bicycle, which was stolen years ago.

The journey takes him to a scavenger's treasure trove, the mountain home of an aboriginal photographer, deep into the secret world of antique bicycle collectors, and ultimately to his own heart.

The Stolen Bicycle is the first Taiwanese book I have read and I expected it to have a Chinese feel to it. I didn't previously know that Taiwan had been under Japanese control for fifty years until 1945 and, for me, I felt more of a style affinity to Japanese literature. Author Wu and his imagined protagonist Cheng overlap in several of their interests. Given that The Stolen Bicycle is mainly narrated in the first person by Cheng, this makes it impossible to differentiate between Cheng's fictional life and Wu's real life. I liked this duality and the sense of authenticity it brought to the novel.

I wondered if the story had initially started out as several stories which were later intertwined into one work. In tracing the story of Cheng's father's missing bicycle we spend time in present-day Taiwan, but also journey back to the Second World War and across to Malaysia and Myanmar. Wu has Cheng explain the history of bicycle manufacturing in Taiwan and Japanese bicycle army regiments. Other characters discuss intricate butterfly handicrafts or talk in depth about particular zoo animals, their wartime experiences, or their exploration of grotesque underwater scenes. The narrative jumps between different people's points of view by way of speech, emails and letters and, especially at the beginning of the book, I did lose track of whose story was foremost and what their connection was to the bicycle.

The Stolen Bicycle has a mystical atmosphere to it. Certain scenes seem unbelievable, but were perhaps true; others start out in mundane detail and gradually become more fantastic. I'm still not sure I know the truth of what happened to Cheng's father, but I enjoyed losing myself in Taiwanese history and piecing together the lost bicycle years.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Wu Ming-Yi / Contemporary fiction / Books from Taiwan


  1. It sounds like this book almost reads like magical realism from the way that it is woven and pieces together. I only know that Taiwan and China are very different countries because I know people who come from either one or the other and they like to think of themselves as indpendent.

    1. It sounds a fascinating country and I look forward to discovering more of their literature