Catherine Dai’s ‘Under the Phoenix Tree’: BOOK REVIEW

"Under the Phoenix Tree" must be one of the best works of Taiwan fiction out there.
By Trista di Genova / The Wild East
Order on Bookman‘s website
I S B N : 9575860632 / NT$170
Rating: *****

This book was first published in 1990, and reads like a classic in Taiwan literature. It really feels like we are living in Taipei a generation ago, in the footsteps and fascinating life trajectory of this young Taiwanese woman. The flow and pace of Under the Phoenix Tree are masterful, reminiscent of one of Ang Lee’s ( 李安) early movies, particularly Eat Drink Man Woman ( 飲食男女).

Under the Phoenix Tree is one of those lovely novels you never want to come to an end, one of those idyllic reads where the turn of every page and every twist in its melodic plot are like a dancer’s steps. It’s astonishing how under-rated and little known Catherine Dai’s work is; perhaps one day she will receive some much-deserved recognition as one of the best modern writers on Taiwan.

If anyone wants to read an amazing novel about Taiwan that truly deserves a honored place in world literature, look no further. The great news is Catherine Dai’s other work, Bound Feet, a collection of slice-of-life short stories from the perspective of a fascinating array of characters, is in every way just as superb. Definitely a keeper on my bookshelf, this book comes with highest recommendations.

Catherine Dai has previously published two collections of short stories with Bookman Press—Bound Feet: Stories of Contemporary Taiwan and Sringara Tales, stories of the dancers in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. She is a dancer and theatre critic.

PLOT SUMMARY: The beautiful Jin Hsiao-hwa is pursued by the intellectual Fan Lin-yu, but is infatuated with the older, Buddhist scholar, Professor Bai. While cultural transition and major political changes embroil the trio, sibling rivalry, generation gaps and private aspirations bind and isolate Hsiao-hwa to/from her thoroughly modern younger sister, and diehard traditional mother. Lyric fantasy combines with the ironic dismantling of intellectual and cultural pretensions to create a comic poignant world of forbidden love and failed dreams.

One thought on “Catherine Dai’s ‘Under the Phoenix Tree’: BOOK REVIEW

  • September 5, 2015 at 2:03 am

    i totally agree with this post and critic. and cannot imagine a better one to describe catherine dai
    the psychological and sociological analysis she wrote about Taiwan are so accurate and clever.
    love her work


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