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The Man with the Compound Eyes: A Novel Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Pantheon
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307907961
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307907967
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 3 x 23.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 567 g

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Amazon.com: 25 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Odd Odyssey Sept. 20 2014
By Addison Dewitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Wu Ming-Yi's "The Man with the Compound Eyes" is one of the strangest books I've read in a while. Other reviews here talk about the lengthy eco-concerns but they didn't bother me as much as the style, the story line and other parts which did not add up and made the novel confusing. In general, this book left me with a feeling of "Huh?".

For me, there are three parts to making a good read: 1. Story, 2. Characters, 3. Style

Ming-Yi's story is, from a distance, not bad. An island is nearly laid to waste by a tsunami of trash. Various people are affected by this unnatural occurrence, including civilized folk along with various native people along a scale of civilization ranging from completely aboriginal to islander to white outsiders. A woman's son and husband go missing and are found dead. A native boy shows up (on a wave of trash) to take their place, somehow embodying them both for the woman while she recovers from the mourning process. Some outsiders show up to investigate the disaster and provide, perhaps, a different perspective on the events taking place. An odd spirit (compound eye man) hovers about the scene of the dead man and little boy, providing yet another strange and seemingly unnecessary viewpoint. The story almost gets to an apex, but fails to do so and then somewhat meanders to a very weak finish, filled with treacly emotive inner dialogues and poetry.


The characters are interesting, the protagonist is Alice, an Asian woman who loses her son and Norwegian husband, Thom, from a hiking accident. There's Atile'i, the native boy who accidentally floats toward and lands on the island via the trash vortex. Hafay, the coffee house/bar owner who seems to be the most solid character of all. Dahu, an island man whose wife abandon him and who has the hots for Alice. And then, there's yet two more, completely useless characters who add nothing to the story, Detlef and Sara, two eco-investigator types, outsiders who have come to the island to see what's happening. A few other minor characters fill in the blanks, and there's a lot of blanks. The last two characters above (and their back-story) are totally not necessary to the book at all. Filler at best.

The style is readable but slow and meandering. Almost all the characters are inside of their heads far too much. Inner dialogue is a constant. This book is riddled with flashbacks, something I'm never fond of and seems to be a irritatingly growing trend among novelists these days. There are many side tracks which deflect story and definitely do not help it move forward. Far too much singing and poetry that don't help the story at all. The one thing that Ming-Yi does well is descriptive prose, so he's got that going for him. And he does a good job of rendering a woman's thoughts realistically. However, this book is very difficult to get through and ends so weakly that this reader felt like there was no point to it. Seriously, I turned the last page and went "Meh" and tossed the book to the floor. I'd like to say that rarely happens, but it seems to be on the increase these days.

The book's title and the character from which it was derived are misleading and strange. It's as if Ming-Yi wants to eventually write sci-fi and thought it would be fun to throw in some kind of ghostly, insect-like man to visit his thoughts upon us while we're trying to decipher the rest of this tangled mess of a story. That addition is wholly unnecessary and a major distraction. It is also inserted in such a minor way that I can't figure out how it became the title! Just plain odd.

This is one of those books that has a few redeeming qualities that kept me afloat in a sea of trash. Perhaps that's the metaphor Ming-Yi is working toward, but this novel needs a major re-write and clean-up. I've read elsewhere that Ming-Yi is an environmentalist. Perhaps he can start his clean-up efforts with this manuscript. Three stars. Two taken away for meandering story line and over-treacly ending. I give it a weak recommendation at best.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Where worlds collide May 7 2014
By KnC Books - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
"No other creature can share experience like this. Only human beings can, through writing, experience something separately together." - The Man with the Compound Eyes

Most of us lead what we consider simple lives. We look at the mundane activites of daily life - eating, sleeping, working - without consideration of how they affect, or are affected, by the world around us. Indeed, our quest for individuality seems to demand that we see ourselves as separate, living at the center our own little world.

"The Man with the Compound Eyes" is a novel of interconnectedness; where people, places, things, and even time periods come together, and "the finest movement of any organism represents a change in an ecosystem." Author Wu Ming-Yi takes us to a place where our mythic past of oral legends and wrathful gods meets our technological present of live news coverage and cell phones. There, on a beach in Taiwan, they must confront not only each other but the uncertain future as well, when the rising ocean dumps back all the trash people had dumped into it.

As if we have compound eyes, Wu Ming-YI allows us to see a single series of events from multiple perspectives; each intimately personal, yet remaining interrelated. Woven together with the threads of life, death, love, and loss, the characters in "The Man with the Compound Eyes" face their shared trials and individual travails. "Life doesn't allow you any preconceptions. Most of the time you have to accept what life throws at you, kind of like walking into a restaurant where the owner dictates what you're having for dinner."

Lyrical, mystical, yet ultimately real, "The Man with the Compound Eyes" is a subtly layered novel that shows us an intricate and multi-faceted world - the world we just happen to live in. An enjoyable read; the translation by Darryl Sterk is seamless. A welcome addition to my library, and highly recommended.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Realism and Myths Combined July 12 2014
By asiana - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Mystical and magical stories are intertwined in this book which took a lot of patience on my part to finish. First of all, the translation is really fine, but the author dwells too much on environmental issues taking away from character development. In this novel two main characters emerge, Atile'i,, a second son who, according to the rules of the mystical island where he lives, has to be sacrificed to the sea. But, instead of dying, he is washed ashore on an island of trash which, after many storms is headed toward a portion of Taiwan meets where he meets the second main character, Alice, a college professor, who is contemplating suicide after the mysterious disappearance of her husband and son during a hiking trip. Environmentalists from all over the world, a mysterious man, friends of Alice all have their stories told in this myriad tale, but it was a chore to finish the book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Great Story July 17 2014
By R. C. Bowman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
"The Man With the Compound Eyes" is a vaguely mythic work of art with a fable at its core.

I found the writing gorgeous, full of imagery, and somehow dreamy. It makes me wish I could read the original, not just the translation. It hits you over the head, hard, many times, with a very pointed message. To be fair, though, that message is necessary to the story; it wouldn't be what it is otherwise. I didn't feel that it was preachy, just very clear.
As a side note, I would love to see this adapted into an anime or a film.

Overall, this was a wonderful read and I recommend it highly.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This Taiwanese eco-fantasy set in 2029 speaks to us in 2014, too! May 26 2014
By Daniel Halevi Bloom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This cli fi novel -- and it is much more in the cli fi genre than the sci fi genre -- is putting Taiwan on the
international map, with overseas editions appearing in
London, New York and Paris.

Note that the novel was very ably translated by National Taiwan
University professor Darryl Sterk, a longtime resident of
Taipei, and that the novel
is just as much about stag beetles, mountaineering,
love, sex, millet wine and whales" as it is about the lives of the
main characters in the book.
I compare Wu's novel to Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez's
magic realism.

Wu's entrance into the Western publishing world is a singular
event, and while some have characterized the novel as speculative fiction in
the way that the best Margaret Atwood books are spec fic --
I call this novel cli fi, and part of a new genre of climate-themed literature. I live in Taiwan
and read the book three times already and each time a new novel was revealed. I see a movie here, later on,
perhaps directed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee, a la "Life of Pi." It's that good!

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