Saturday, April 16, 2016

*Review* Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan

Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: February 23, 2016
Pages: 400


A stunning story of love, betrayal, and family, set against the backdrop of a changing Taiwan over the course of the twentieth century.

February 28, 1947: Trapped inside the family home amid an uprising that has rocked Taipei, Dr. Tsai delivers his youngest daughter, the unnamed narrator of Green Island, just after midnight as the city is plunged into martial law. In the following weeks, as the Chinese Nationalists act to crush the opposition, Dr. Tsai becomes one of the many thousands of people dragged away from their families and thrown into prison. His return, after more than a decade, is marked by alienation from his loved ones and paranoia among his community — conflicts that loom over the growing bond he forms with his youngest daughter. Years later, this troubled past follows her to the United States, where, as a mother and a wife, she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family — the same choice she witnessed her father make many years before.

As the novel sweeps across six decades and two continents, the life of the narrator shadows the course of Taiwan’s history from the end of Japanese colonial rule to the decades under martial law and, finally, to Taiwan’s transformation into a democracy. But, above all, Green Island is a lush and lyrical story of a family and a nation grappling with the nuances of complicity and survival, raising the question: how far would you be willing to go for the ones you love?


I received a copy of this book through Penguin's First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

This book is fiction, which I only know because I checked about a quarter of the way through reading it, but it reads like an incredibly interesting memoir. This book spans like 60 years, sixty intense years (some more intense than others of course). There are several events in the book that seem insanely unrealistic to me, an American who has never lived under an oppressive regime, and they actually make me want to do some research to see how realistic they are. The events are so awful that I really think I just don't want to believe that they could have actually happened to real people.

As a person who currently lives in a different country than the one I was raised in, I could relate to the narrator's life after she moved from Taiwan, although she did a much better job of learning the local language than I have (my current living situation isn't supposed to be permanent though). With that said, I could not imagine wanting to go back to Taiwan while things were still volatile there. That would be the last place I wanted to go with my small children (and my daughter was just shy of 3 before she met my family in person, so I really do have a lot in common with the narrator in this respect.) 

Overall I give Green Island 5 out of 5 stars because it stuck me in the midst of the narrator's life and I really felt her emotions even if I couldn't relate to all of them. - Katie 

Buy the Book

About the Author

A native of California, Shawna Yang Ryan teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her debut novel, first published in 2007 by El Leon Literary Arts under the title "Locke 1928", was re-issued by The Penguin Press as "Water Ghosts" in 2009. It was a San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller, the 2006 winner of the UC Davis Maurice Prize, a finalist for the 2008 Northern California Book Award, and long-listed for the 2010 Asian American Literary Award. Booklist called "Water Ghosts" "accomplished and affecting," while The Boston Globe has declared her "a writer to watch."

Her short fiction has appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Asian American Literary Review, Kartika Review, and The Berkeley Fiction Review.

A former Fulbright scholar in Taiwan, Ryan's second novel, "Green Island", is set during Taiwan's martial law era. It will be published in February 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf.



  1. I like your review style precious!

  2. I'm really enjoying memoirs right now. I might have to check this out!

    1. It's not actually a memoir, but it felt so real that I thought it might be. - Katie

  3. This genre isn't really my style but this one sounds good.