The Stolen Bicycle

Translation: Darryl Sterk


Nigdy nie przypuszczałam, że przyjdzie mi kiedyś przeczytać powieść, w którą głównym wątkiem są… rowery. I że będzie to książka wciągająca i fascynująca. No bo jakże miałoby być inaczej, jeśli autorem jest Wu Ming-Yi, któremu zawdzięczamy też Człowieka o fasetkowych oczach?

I had never imagined that I would ever read a novel about… bicycles. And that it would be such an enthralling read. But it’s not a surprise, considering that it’s written by is Wu Ming-Yi, the author of Man with Compound Eyes.

The plot of the book starts in the first half of the 20th century, when Taiwan was still a Japanese colony. Farmers and little shopkeepers save up for years to be able to afford an “iron horse”, so that they can transport havy load easily. The bikes were considered to be such a luxury, that every theft would be written about in a local newspaper. And one of those, who has saved up for a long time to be able to afford a bike was the father of the main protagonist. Father, who desperately wanted a son, who was (finally) born after five girls. Father, who is remembered by the main protagonist, mostly from when they rode together to the doctor through the night. Father, who disappears one day. And together with him – his bike.

When the main protagonist finds an antique bike with a serial number, that he had remembered as a child, he does everything he can think of to trace it back to the source – hoping that this will lead him back to his father. He sits in cafes, befriends the owners of antique stores, learns everything there is to learn about prewar bicycles, listenes to various stories, and we, together with him, we try to put together the story of this particular “iron horse” from these pieces of information that he finds along the way.

But The Stolen Bicycle is also a book abour writing, about the bluriness between reality and fiction. The main plot is intertwined with short sections about old bicycles, which come with handdrawn pictures of particular models. Through these short sections we learn about Taiwan’s colonial history, about bikes which were mourned by whole families when stolen, even though their names do not mean much nowadays, about war, about changing Taipei. And all of that in a beautiful literary setting made possible by Darryl Sterk’s masterful translation.

"I must describe that morning for you, because every time something is described anew it becomes meaningful anew. I must start by letting the dawn spread out, the morning light stroll over the land. I have to take the trees, the houses in the village, the local school, the fields with their medleys of colour, and the little fishing boats swaying with the wind at the seashore, and place them one by one like chess pieces in the landscape."

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