Keeping up with the War God, by Steven Crook
(Yushan Publications, 2001)
Buy it on Amazon.com here
This is a fantastic read for anyone who’s already perused all the guidebooks and now wants to delve into some of the deeper historical contexts behind important people, places and mind-bending customs in Taiwan.
Seasoned travel writer Steven Crook, who has written for basically every magazine and newspaper in the region, first penned this memoir with the subtitle “Taiwan, As It Seemed To Me” in 2001. War God is a classic for sure, a compact, 133-page treasure for hard-core Taiwan-history-lovers like me to carry around and savour its richly detailed chapters at a leisurely pace.
Keeping up with the War God has a loosely connected series of essays that overall is phenomenally well-researched. There is no concrete plot, really, but as readers we don’t care where Steven is taking us, because ‘it’s all good’ as they say in America. It gives the colorful, condensed history of places like Jade Mountain, Chiang Kai-shek’s (non-)burial place in Taoyuan County, Keelung, Dr. MacKay in Tamshui, the Dutch and Koxinga in Tainan, head-hunters in Wulai.
Often while touring Taiwan, travelers can’t find sufficient information about the amazing history of these places, so this book makes up for that. As readers we are traveling vicariously through its author, and benefiting from Crook’s impressive knowledge of Taiwan history and ability to penetrate the many layers of history to explain why Taiwan has say, ‘hell marriages’ — symbolic marriages between dead persons, to put the spirits to rest.
At times the customs have changed in the past 10 years, but Crook has conscientiously added updates in many of these instances.
Read the foreword to the ‘War God’.
Check out Steven’s website: http://crooksteven.blogspot.com.
The Wild East magazine’s interview with Steven: Steven Crook: Taiwan’s consummate cultural notetaker
Review by Trista di Genova. Submit your book for review at trista at thewildeast dot net.