Ghost Town

Europa. Oct. 2022. 384p. tr. from Taiwanese by Darryl Sterk. ISBN 9781609457983. $27. F
At once vibrant and tartly observant, Chen’s tour de force—a Taiwan Literature Award winner—reveals how we all hold onto the ghosts of the past. After his release from a Berlin prison for having killed his boyfriend T, Keith Chen returns to his backwater Taiwanese hometown, arriving in time for the all-important Ghost Festival. At first, he sees only the bright flowers, but we know from the expertly unfolded stories that it’s not a happy place. Elder brother Keith was mayor and then imprisoned, sister Beverly sews clothing for Europeans she can’t afford herself, Belinda is married to an abusive news anchor, troubled Barbie hides in her home, and Betty, a household registrar in Taipei, is attacked following accusations that she’s not seeing-eye dog–friendly. The mystery of bodacious sister Plenty’s suicide sums up the family’s pain. “The cruelest people weren’t your homeroom teacher or the police. It was us,” says the ghost of Keith’s father. Driven out for his sexuality, Keith seems to have been happy with handsome blond cellist T, whose death is the question mark driving the narrative.
VERDICT A highly recommended story of past, identity, and family.
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