Ahmam's Islands

Chung Wenyin 
P.R.A. Publishing (2012)
ISBN 9780982140796 
Reviewed by Cristina Lanzi for Reader Views (02/14)

Article first published as Book Review: ‘Ahmam’s Islands’ by Chung Wenyin on Blogcritics.

“Ahmam's Islands” by Chung Wenyin is the new release of the Taiwanese novel Woman's Islands. This exotic novel narrates the story of Ahmam, a young woman living in Taipei, as she prepares to visit her home village for the Chinese New Year. Although the occasion is supposed to represent a joyous family time, Ahmam is not thrilled about being reunited with her family. In fact, because of her life choices, conduct that brought her to not have a job or a boyfriend, and being constantly penniless, her mother is always overcritical towards her lifestyle.

“Ahmam's Islands” is therefore, the story of a young woman struggling with the culture and the family values of a provincial Taiwan, and the city life she has chosen.  Indeed, it is the story of her need to be free and independent, fighting against the hopes and limitations of a despotic mother trapped in her own culture.

As a keen reader, I always welcome the chance to read a book that is set in a different culture so I can learn more about another society, and another time and place, and I definitely learned something with this novel. However, I honestly struggled to get through this book. The descriptions of Ahmam and her friends are not as involved as I would have liked, the lives they lead are drawn in a way that doesn’t get the reader emotionally tangled.  Ahmam has her tough personality and a circle of friends that help us to understand her story and personal growth but she comes across quite bitter and boring.  She appears to be intelligent but too ingenuous and exposed to deception at the same time.

Self-sufficiency and social beliefs, together with cultural heritage and the duties of women in the Chinese society are the main topics of “Ahmam's Islands”.  It goes without saying that these themes offer enough material to create an enthralling plot, but the story is told like simple narration of a memoir and it doesn’t keep the reader interested.  I think the book does offer a stimulating perspective that helps the reader understand what it means to be young, single and female in modern day Taiwan.

The style of writing reflects the author's heritage, and as a translator myself I can imagine that C.J. Anderson and the editor played a significant part in preserving the integrity of the text; nonetheless you can feel a difference between this and most books written by English authors which diminishes the reading pleasure. 
I would recommend “Ahmam's Islands” to young adults who are about to start their own life because the author gives insights into Ahmam's psyche, letting the reader go through this young woman's memories; a technique that allows the reader to see her life in full by what she thinks at different moments of her journey.

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