In Taiwan there is literature in which the art of storytelling is perfectly mastered and with many twists and turns. The sniper, his wok and his riflePublished in French at the end of 2021, for example. This novel presents the practices of the Taiwanese military, its leadership styles, and the types of weapons it possesses or desires to acquire. So much data that the censors will speed up its erasure if a similar book is published in the People’s Republic of China.
The novel follows the journey of a man named Ai Li – his pen name: Alex. In a particularly fragmented Taiwanese army unit, he received solid training as a sniper, a combination of ruthless discipline, tremendous competence, and constant references to heroes from China’s history or classic literature.
Murder, tattoos and submarines
Ai Li (or Alex) was sent to Rome, where there is a strategic advisor to the Taiwanese president – we later learned that this advisor had come secretly to negotiate the purchase of Ukrainian submarines. He is responsible for killing him: a task that he accomplishes with precision, using different camouflage clothing. Once the murder is done, Alex, crossing Italy, going from bunker to bunker, narrowly escapes from the shooters who seek his execution.
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, Superintendent Wu, a judge at the end of his career – he has ten days left before retiring – is investigating the death of a non-commissioned officer in the Taiwan Navy’s Office of Procurement and Orders, whose body was found in a hotel room. He soon discovers that it cannot be suicide. Soon, the body of a colonel from the army command office was washed away by the sea.
The investigation conducted by the judge, partly with the help of his young son, a computer enthusiast, will lead him to notice the same tattoos on the bodies of the victims, to contact members of the Triads (Chinese mafia), and then to take many risks.
At the same time, Alex discreetly returns to Taiwan. In order not to be spotted, he disguises himself as a woman when he passes through customs with forged papers. What he wants to know in Taipei is who sought to bring him down and who ordered the killing of the strategy advisor. Ultimately, Judge and Alex will communicate, in a particularly frantic sequence.
Throughout the story, the characters eat or cook different Chinese dishes, the recipe of which is meticulously detailed each time. Even Alex, the sniper, knows the best way to use a frying pan, this typical Chinese hemispherical metal container, which allows food to be scooped and fried. But apart from these culinary aspects, a certain Taiwanese vibe is a setting for the novel. His description is at times not lacking in humor and the characters willingly express a scathing irony.
Chang Kuo-Li, the author of the novel, born in 1955, has a long experience as a journalist. He was the editor-in-chief of the China Times Weekly, and at the same time wrote books, many of which were adapted into Taiwanese cinema. He was also a food critic.
in The sniper, his wok and his rifle, He does not hesitate to approach Taiwanese political practices, for example when Judge Wu said: “We will complete this investigation in two steps if the presidency is impartial,” he added. Again, such observations would certainly not appear in a book published in mainland China.
The quality of this novel is due to its rhythm and the colorful characters that cross it often. The French translator Alexis Brussollet feels comfortable describing certain situations of the Taiwanese army.
As is customary in Taiwan, the names of characters and places are transcribed in Roman characters in the traditional way Wade-Giles, invented in the 19th century.e century and not according to the way Pinyinwas developed in Beijing in 1958 and definitively created in 1979. So the author’s name, Chang Kuo-li, is not written “Zhang Guoli”.
Many other Chinese novels appear each year in Taiwan, but few are translated into English or French. The sniper, his wok and his rifle It thus has the advantage of being an interesting sample of this largely unknown Taiwanese literature.