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Book 1 of Acclaimed Taiwanese Graphic Novel “The Boy from Clearwater” to Hit the Shelves in the U.S. on November 21

  • Date:2023-10-26


An incredible true story in graphic novel form lays bare the tortured and triumphant history of Taiwan, an island claimed and fought over by many countries, through the life story of a man who lived through its most turbulent times.

“An exemplary tribute to an extraordinary hero. The stupendous achievements here are many: a synergistic literary success; a historic record of twentieth-century Taiwan; the remarkable account of a boy’s life; and a triumph of translation.” – Booklist, starred review

The English version of The Boy from Clearwater (來自清水的孩子), the biographical comic series on Tsai Kun-lin (蔡焜霖), a political prisoner during Taiwan’s White Terror era, will be published in the U.S. by Levine Querido on November 21.

Originally released in Taiwan in 2021, the Chinese-language graphic novel was authored in collaboration by Taiwanese writer Yu Pei-yun (游珮芸), illustrator Zhou Jian-xin (周見信), and Slowork Publishing (慢工出版).

The Boy from Clearwater illustrates a microcosm of Taiwan’s modern history from 1930 to 2020. Through the retelling of Tsai Kun-lin’s life stories, readers are able to get a picture of the period of Japanese occupation, the White Terror era of political repression by the KMT government, and the ensuing democratization of Taiwan, making the island one of the most free and democratic countries in the world today. 

The work garnered international acclaim and has been translated into seven other languages, including English, Korean, Arabic, German, French, Italian, and Japanese. The book has also won multiple awards, including the 2021 Taipei Book Fair Award, the White Ravens Award, and the Golden Tripod Award.

Tsai Kun-lin (1930-2023) was born in Qingshui, Taichung in 1930s Taiwan. The name “Qingshui,” which means “clear water” in Mandarin, was chosen during Japan’s colonial rule in Taiwan. The seaside town was developed early and has been a prosperous commercial and cultural hub in Central Taiwan.

In Book 1 of The Boy from Clearwater, Tsai, in concert with the beautiful illustrations of Zhou Jian-Xin, depicts a carefree childhood in the 1930s despite the Japanese occupation: growing up happily with the company of nursery rhymes and picture books on Qingshui Street. As war emerges, Tsai's memories shift to military parades, air raids, and watching others face conscription into the army. It seems no one can escape. After the war, the book-loving teenager tries hard to learn Mandarin and believes he is finally stepping towards a comfortable future, but little does he know, a dark cloud awaits him ahead.

The following part of Book 1 opens with illustrations reminiscent of woodcuts showing the soul-crushing experience of Tsai's detention and imprisonment starting from the 1950s. In his second year at Taichung First Senior High School, Tsai attends a book club hosted by his teacher and is consequently arrested on a false charge of taking part in an "illegal" assembly. After being tortured, he is sentenced to ten years in prison, deprived of civil rights for seven years, and sent to Green Island for "reformation." Lasting until his release in September 1960, Tsai, a victim of the White Terror era, spent ten years of his youth in prison on an unjust charge. But he is ready to embrace freedom.

The protagonist of the book, magazine publisher Tsai Kun-lin, died recently this September at the age of 93. He dedicated his later life to sharing his experience as a political prisoner and educating younger generations about Taiwan's White Terror period. 

Book 2 of The Boy from Clearwater will be coming in May 2024. 

Story/Yu Pei-Yun(游珮芸)

Yu Pei-Yun graduated from the Department of Foreign Languages, National Taiwan University and holds a doctoral degree in Human Science from Ochanomizu University, Japan. Currently teaching at the Graduate Institute of Children's Literature at National Taitung University, she is devoted to the studies of children's literature and culture. Yu also writes, translates, critiques, curates exhibitions about, and plans the publication of children's literature.

Comic/Zhou Jian-Xin(周見信)

Zhou Jian-Xin holds a master's degree from the Graduate Institute of Plastic Arts, Taipei National University of the Arts and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in children's literature at National Taitung University.

Translator/Lin King(金翎)

Lin King is a writer and translator from Taipei, Taiwan. Her work has appeared in publications including Boston Review, Joyland, Asymptote, and Columbia Journal, and has won the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. She translates from Mandarin Chinese and Japanese to English, and her translation of Yang Shuang-zi(楊双子)'s Taiwan Travelogue(臺灣漫遊錄) is forthcoming from Graywolf Press.

Images courtesy of Levine Querido