Friday, September 19, 2008

A Borrowed Voice: Glimpses

Out of a past in which the little people shook the halls of another power favored by the Establishment, hot off the presses, is Linda Gail Arrigo and Lynn Miles' amazing A Borrowed Voice: Taiwan Human Rights through International Networks, 1960-1980. It's some 480 pages long, and every page on it is crammed with fascinating and informative stories of the foreigners who came to Taiwan and spoke for a people who have been silenced by decades of oppression and political killings of the worst kind. They were the borrowed voices of the people of Taiwan.

I've put a couple of shots of the text, which is arranged in a very unusual, and I think, unusually attractive way. On one side, in green, are longer narratives about a person's interaction with the island -- and in white, more detailed accounts of the events they are discussing. Like a fugue, the stories interweave, dipping in and out of each other as different participants give their accounts....

This book is a gold mine of information, with photos, newspaper clippings, press releases, government documents, and other items accompanying the texts. Everyone will recognize the names: Richard Kagan, Lynn Miles, James Seymour, Michael Fonte.... along with many other names, like the brave missionaries who helped Peng Ming-min escape and the Maryknollers who defied their leaders in the Church to help the people of Taiwan. In addition to names English readers will be familiar with, there are also texts from Japanese who helped Taiwan's people against oppression -- the story of Japan's involvement with Taiwan in the postwar era is one that cries out for telling. A good start is made here. The book also shows that Taiwan was an issue for so many people of so many different political and social backgrounds, all coming together to oppose a very great wrong. A non-partisan issue. A lesson for our time, eh?

Told largely in the first person, the narratives, often strings of anecdotes, or small, suddenly remembered details, recreate the atmosphere of the time.... Linda Arrigo writes:

"At first I did not realize why Taiwanese people were generally so fearful, including the intellectuals with respected positions' gradually I understood that there were spies and infiltrators and secret government reporters everywhere. Even the intellectuals at Academia Sinica walked a thin line, trying to be convincingly relevant without incurring the wrath of the authorities. There were even some spies recruited from among the teenage factory girls I spent time with...some untrustworthy letter carriers got cold feet and threw the letters in the mail box. When the security agencies intercepted them, they sometimes mailed you back a photocopy, for intimidation effect."

I can't praise this book enough, nor can a tiny discussion like this illuminate the many nooks and crannies of this incredible work. You can enjoy a copy for yourself at a substantial discount from the Taiwan Bookstore ( across from NTU in Taipei. Be quick; it's sure to sell out fast.


Tommy said...

I don't suppose you would know how else to get a copy? We are not all in walking distance of the said bookstore. If not, then I will just have to take your word for it :(

Anonymous said...

I second that praise! Linda and Lynn's book is an outstanding narrative history rarely told in any country.

These brave narratives as told by many courageous Taiwanese and non-Taiwanese exemplify Margaret Mead's famous quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Anonymous said...

For those interested: I believe you can contact Linda Arrigo directly for a copy if it's not possible to find it elsewhere.