Archive | March 2016

“Green Island” Book Review

Author: Shawna Yang Ryan

Publisher: Knopf

Type: Historical Fiction

Rating: 🌸🌸🌸. 5 out of 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸  

Synopsis and Thoughts:

Green Island opens with the events leading up to the February 28, 1947 uprising in Taipei which led to decades of martial law in Taiwan. As the streets of Taipei erupt into riots and murder, Dr. Tsai finds himself having to deliver his youngest daughter with the aid of his oldest daughter. Over the course of the next few weeks following the unnamed narrator’s birth, Dr. Tsai is taken from his home and imprisoned for more than a decade. With no memory of her father and her only true knowledge of him coming from family stories and a picture in a frame, it is more than a decade before Dr. Tsai finally manages to make his way home to his family.

Haunted by what he experienced while in prison, and the knowledge that he is still being watched by members of the government, the narrator comes to understand that her father not only is her father not crazy and imagining things, but that her father’s troubles follow her through adolescence and eventually to the United States where she has married another Taiwanese and begun a family. As the world moves into the decades of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the Vietnam War, the citizens of Taiwan continue to live under martial law and the underground organization fights to turn Taiwan into a democracy. With her husband placing their family’s lives in danger, the narrator is faced with the difficult decision of whether it’s better to aid her husband and his cause, or to help the government in order to curry favors for her family both in the United States and at home in Taiwan. As she ponders what to do, knowing full well her every move is being watched, she reflects on the fact that:

The loss of freedom isn’t a restriction of movement; it’s the unending feeling of being watched.

I received an ARC of this from the publisher as part of Penguin’s First to Read Program, after reading the synopsis I decided to give it a try as it covers a rather large and pivotal span in world history that I knew nothing about. As I read of the events leading up to the 228 Massacre, an event which I knew nothing about, I was reminded, yet again, that my knowledge of Asian history is seriously lacking and I need to work on rectifying that. It was heartbreaking to read of all the families that were torn apart by the government, all in hopes of ridding itself of those who opposed it and its policies:

Thousands of husbands disappeared in those weeks. Sons as young as twelve. Brothers. Friends. What better way to remake society, my mother thought, than to eliminate the teachers and principals, the students, the lawyers and doctors-truly, anybody who had an opinion and a voice? Beyond the river, execution grounds, field after field irrigated with blood, waited to be discovered. Buildings would crush the bones.


Although this was an insightful and interesting read, I found that at times the book became weighed down and I was plodding my way through it. It really wasn’t until more than halfway through the book, when the narrator is living in the United States and she is first approached by Mr. Liu to provide information to the Taiwanese government about any plans those who wish to overthrow the current structure, such as her husband, that I finally found myself at that point where I didn’t want to put the book down because I had to know what happened next. Not that I wasn’t interested in the events which took place earlier in the book, but I found myself absorbed and appealed by the fact that the Taiwanese government followed it’s former citizens to the United States and continued to spy on and threaten them with no recourse from the United States government.

I came to not only love these characters but to fear for them and what would happen if any of them were to step out of line. Shawna Yang Ryan has written a beautifully descriptive story in which the reader feels the humidity, fear, love and loss of the characters within it’s pages. I look forward to reading other books by this author, as well as to conducting some of my own research into the events discussed in the book.