33. ‘The Man With The Compound Eyes’ by Wu Ming-Yi

The first thing you’re likely to notice about this book is that it is beautiful. I just adore everything about the cover: the typography, the colour scheme, the fact that all of the elements on the front represent something that happens in the story.

What makes it even more beautiful is that the book is divided into parts, and each time a new part begins the page is covered with the hexagonal ‘compound eyes’ pattern. It’s small details like this that turn books into beautiful artefacts as well as stories.

[SOME SPOILERS AHEAD]

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Anyway, now that I’ve sufficiently gushed about the cover, let’s talk about the book. Compound Eyes follows two main characters, but as the story progresses it begins to invade the minds of other ‘peripheral’ characters, building up a rich world within the story.

First, there is Atile’i, a boy from the island of Wayo Wayo, which has an isolated culture based heavily around the sea. As a second son, Atile’i must leave the island on a raft on his 15th birthday, as a sacrifice to the whale-god, Kabang. But Atile’i doesn’t drown as is expected; instead he washes up on a floating trash island which is being pushed towards the coast of Taiwan. In the path of the trash island is the home of the second major character, Alice, who lives in a coastal Taiwanese house which she once shared with her now missing husband and son.

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I love a little magical realism and this book certainly delivers on that front. There are plenty of curious events which remain intriguingly unexplained and infuse the book with a lovely atmosphere of mystery. I also loved the inclusion of one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs, towards the end.

As for the man with the compound eyes, he puts in a few appearances and (at least to me) it is never made entirely clear what sort of entity he is. He seems to provide a bridge between life and death; he is someone with some power to influence the world, but he mainly observes and questions. He is a character who would not be out of place in a Murakami novel.

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The story feels a little scattered in places – it becomes more about the characters and their histories, rather than a traditional, action-filled story arc. Consequently, I would say that not everyone will like this book – some might find it rambling or contemplative – but fortunately these things tick all of my boxes.

Compound Eyes is a beautiful, melancholy book which combines the pain of reality with a dash of magic, and ponders the awesome power of nature vs. the damage done by modern man.

“You know that people can’t pit their hearts against the sea.”

If you liked my review, why not read the book and let me know what you think?

Thank you to the lovely people at Random House for providing me with my copy.

What do you think?

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