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Traveling Far and Wide with My Stories

  • PublishTime:2023-11-30

Kevin Chen

Translated by Melanie A. Leng

Close my bank account, do the laundry, pack, go online and check-in for the flight—tomorrow I'll be leaving Iowa City, where I've lived for almost three months. I miss my home back in Berlin, but I can't go back yet; I have to go to Texas—three cities, four hotels, and five events. All of this is for my novel, Ghost Town.

I published Ghost Town in Taiwan in December 2019. I had previously published seven works in Taiwan, won several literary awards, and made passable sales. Actually, scratch that, the figures were plain embarrassing. To be honest, I hadn’t made much of a name for myself and had very few readers. I told myself it was okay. It is what it is. Writing is my passion. Even if I were to never produce a masterpiece in my entire life, at least I can say that I kept writing and never gave up.

I never would've thought that Ghost Town would become the breakout success of my writing career. Sales were amazing. It earned quite a few literary awards, and translation rights were sold to multiple countries.

After the various translations of Ghost Town were published, even more miracles occurred. The New York Times not only listed it as one of the most anticipated books of fall 2022, but also gave it a glowing review. It was selected by Library Journal for its annual "Best of World Literature" list. It was longlisted for the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards for translated novels. The French newspaper Le Monde dedicated nearly a full page to recommending the novel.

With support from the Ministry of Culture of Taiwan and its overseas cultural offices, I took my book on an international book tour. I visited New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Houston, Tokyo, Hanoi, Paris, Toronto, Ann Arbor, and Iowa City, participating in many international literary festivals. I also visited a number of universities and did readings at local bookstores. In the span of one year, I participated in over 50 international events.

Some readers have asked, "Visiting so many places seems magnificent, but does it really achieve anything?

To that I answer, creating literature is a lonely road; being on the road is also a battle with loneliness itself. If a book is translated into other languages, the author will take the book and tour different countries. This does indeed sound glamorous; however, traveling by plane, changing hotels, giving readings, participating in discussions, and answering questions day after day is taxing, both mentally and physically. It requires strong willpower. A book tour is not a vacation. There's no time for sightseeing. I only get to see the airport and the venue. Then it's right on to the next city. Every day I face a different crowd. I must greet people with a smile and read aloud with clarity and enthusiasm. In the evening, I return to the hotel and have dinner alone. Loneliness starts to creep over me. My throat feels hoarse, but I still need to assess my performance that day and prepare for tomorrow's stage.

In moments of solitude, I sit quietly, sweeping away irrational thoughts from my mind and reminding myself that the purpose of this journey was for the sake of literature. The scenery along the way is also literature, and I am blessed to see it. I hope that one day, when I look back in my old age, I can admire myself in these moments, for all the places I have been to for the sake of my own writing.

At this year's Brooklyn Book Festival in October, I was buying books at a local independent bookstore’s booth. A girl from the next booth called out my name. She said she had attended my panel discussion at the PEN America World Voices Festival in April and went out to buy my novel the next day. She was surprised to be able to meet me here. She said, "Thank you for your book. It was deeply touching, and it has taught me a lot of things."

I crouched down, quickly forced the tears back into my eyes in seconds and stood up to sincerely thank her.

There was another Taiwanese girl who immigrated to the United States when she was young who told me, "Thank you. I'd always felt as if something was missing inside me. After reading Ghost Town, that hole seems to have been filled."

It's hard to see what you achieve when promoting literature. But perhaps moments like these are the looked-for achievements.

Nothing grand, no applause, yet from the heart, without a hint of pretense.

I come from a rural farming family in Taiwan, but just by writing a novel, I've been able to go so far and experience so much, reaching distant foreign cities and making heartfelt connections such as these.

For these connections alone, I'm willing to keep dragging my luggage along the road to unfamiliar cities and say to even more strangers, "Hello, my name is Kevin Chen. I'm an author from Taiwan, and I've written a book about my hometown, Yongjing."

About the Author:

Kevin Chen (Chen Si-hung), born in 1976 in Bade Lane, Yongjing Township, Changhua County, is the ninth child of a farming family. He majored in English at Fu Jen Catholic University and studied at the Graduate Institute of Drama and Theatre at National Taiwan University. Chen received the inaugural prize in the Lin Rong-san Short Story Contest and the Annual Chiuko Fiction Prize. His novel Ghost Town won the Taiwan Literature Awards Annual Golden Grand Laurel and the Golden Tripod Award, and translation rights for this work have been sold around the world. In addition to writing, Chen occasionally acts and translates. He currently lives in Berlin.

《鬼地方》的各國語言版本問世之後,發生了更多神奇的事,《紐約時報》不僅把這本小說放進當年的秋季書單,且專文給予盛讚書評,《圖書館雜誌》(Library Journal)把這本書選入年度世界文學書單,闖入美國筆會文學獎的翻譯獎長名單,法國《世界報》(Le Monde)已將近一整頁的篇幅推薦這本小說。
今年十月的布魯克林書展(Brooklyn Book Festival),我在某個獨立書店攤位買書,隔壁攤位的女孩叫了我的名字,她說,四月在美國筆會世界之聲文藝節(PEN World Voices Festival)聽了我的座談,隔天去買了我的小說,想不到會在這裡遇見我。她說,謝謝你的書,深深感動了我,讓我學了好多。