Shawna Yang Ryan knows that setting a book during times of war only heightens the plot’s tension—lovers and families are torn apart and civilizations are thrown into survival mode as battles rage on around them. Ryan set her second novel, Green Island, a stunning story of love, betrayal, and family, against the backdrop of a changing Taiwan over the course of the twentieth century. She curated a bookshelf for Read It Forward filled with six other novels set during wartime—be it the Spanish Civil War, WWII or Vietnam—that show the strength of humanity even during the bleakest hour.
About Green Island:
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?
SHAWNA YANG RYAN is a former Fulbright scholar and the author of one previous novel, Water Ghosts; she teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her short fiction has appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Asian American Literary Review, Kartika Review, and Berkeley Fiction Review. She lives in Honolulu.