Out in Pacific Ocean, the accumulated rubbish of decades has pooled into an enormous vortex of waste, an unstable island of plastic leeching poison into the sea. Atile’i, a son of the Wayo-Wayoan islanders sent away from his home as sacrifice to the gods, finds himself washed-up on its shores and believes he is in hell. As the tide of refuse bears down on Taiwan, Alice, a professor of literature, contemplates suicide following the loss of her husband and son in a climbing accident, yet changes her mind on discovering a kitten, one eye brown and the other blue, amongst the flotsam.
This is a digressive, multi-faceted novel rich in strange images, hints and suggestions: people can become whales or communicate with the ocean, can die at the bottom of cliffs and yet somehow survive. A man with insectile eyes appears to the book’s multiple narrators bearing cryptic messages. At times avowedly realist, at other moments shifting between fantasy, science fiction and fable, The Man with the Compound Eyes pushes at the boundaries between genres to interrogate the often uncomfortable relationships between peoples, the natural world, and their shifting conceptions of it. This is Wu Ming-Yi’s fourth novel, though the first that has been translated into English; hopefully more will follow.