American expat makes a dog the hero
in his comic novel "A Taipei Mutt"
by Dan Bloom
Friday, December 26, 2003; special to the China Post
Eric Mader-Lin has a thing about dogs, Taipei dogs in particular, and a novel he recently published in English here, titled "A Taipei Mutt," is making waves among expat readers. It's a long book, with many intricate passages, and comes with an interesting take on life in Taiwan's capital city.
A resident of Taipei since 1996, Mader-Lin (he is married to a Taiwanese woman, thus the hyphenated name) works as a teacher and curriculum writer. A native of Hartland, Wisconsin, Mader-Lin, 38, studied comparative literature and French at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and after finishing half of a Ph.D. program he decided to move to Taiwan with his wife and begin work as a teacher, he told Prime Time in a recent email interview.
"I'd traveled in Taiwan before and was interested in working here," he noted. "So I moved to Taipei about 8 years ago and have worked and lived here since then. I teach English and English writing and develop teaching materials."
"A Taipei Mutt" is an eccentric and satirical novel, and readers in Taiwan will likely find much that resonates with their own experiences here. When asked why he chose to write a book with a dog as the main character, Mader-Lin replied: "As a writer I've always been interested in anti-heroes -- lunatics, eccentrics, hopeless cases. And I'm interested in satire, too; mainly in how these kinds of characters can reveal something new or striking about the world. I set out to write such a character in 'A Taipei Mutt'."
What's the novel about? The author explains: "The novel is a satire in a comic-erotic mode. Because of a haphazard sexual encounter with a woman who turns out to be a witch, the main character is turned into a dog through a spell. This happens to him on his first day in Taipei.
"Besides being a comic-erotic novel, it's also something of an attempt to imagine canine perceptions, or how they might be experienced by a human being. For example, what would happen to one of us if we were suddenly given a sense of smell thousands of times more precise than we have now as humans? It's difficult to imagine what it would be like perceiving the world so acutely through smell. At the very least, it would be massively disorienting since suddenly you'd be smelling things you previously didn't even know existed.
"This is the kind of thing I tried to get at in the narrative of my book. I was trying to project what it might be like for a human to be forced into such a world."
And why did Mader-Lin choose to focus on dogs?
"Since I've always been close to dogs, my favorite animal, and since I was depressed by the stray dog situation in Taiwan, it was almost inevitable that I'd come to such a plot for a book," he said. "I started writing the first pages of this book back in 1997 and worked on several drafts for the next few years. My final draft shortened the novel by about a quarter."
Mader-Lin's book has been published by a small press in Taipei, and it's currently on sale here in Taipei at Bookman Books on Hsin-Sheng South Road near the National Taiwan University campus. In addition, interested readers outside Taipei and overseas may contact the author by email via his web page, www.necessaryprose.com, in order to get copies shipped to them.
Although the novel is available only in English, Mader-Lin has arranged for a Chinese-language translation and hopes to publish that as well in the near future, although no date or publisher has yet been set.
When asked who "A Taipei Mutt" was targeted at, Mader-Lin said: "Given the plot and setting I think the novel would most interest expats in Taiwan, who will certainly recognize some of the confusion of my main character. I projected him as something of an intellectual, something of a nitwit. He has to deal initially with the confusion of Taipei itself, a place he was not ready for when he came here, and eventually with the confusion of his canine senses, which grow ever stronger and more disorienting as the novel progresses."
Mader-Lin says he plans to stay in Taipei, where he enjoys his life and his job, in addition to building a vast personal website that spotlights a large catalog of his literary work.
"I return to the United States every year, although I think if I moved back permanently I would soon begin to miss Taipei," he says. "But I've no plans to leave since I find Taiwan endlessly fascinating."
Copyright 2003, The China Post. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.