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Novelist | Kevin Chen

  • Date:2023-04-14
Novelist | Kevin Chen

Chinese Name: 陳思宏
Date of Birth: February 27, 1976
Place of Birth: Changhua County (Central Taiwan)
Did You Know?
Author Kevin Chen has been a journalist, interpreter, and even appeared in a few films. Despite all of this, though, his true love has always been writing. As a child, he and his older sisters studied the works of a number of renowned authors, and by the time he was about 10 years old, he had already finished the draft of his first book.

Kevin Chen was born in 1976 in the township of Yongjing (永靖), in the central Taiwanese county of Changhua. From an early age, he showed a tremendous interest in literature, however his parents did little to support this interest, even telling him he should put the books down. Nevertheless, his passion persisted, and he continued reading and writing. Teachers in junior and senior high encouraged him to enter writing competitions, and this helped inspire him to continue on his journey down the literary road.

Since he was a child, Kevin Chen always had a vague sense of his homosexuality. By 11th grade, he was certain. However, at that time in Taiwan, there was a lack of education around sexuality and gender. The social environment was very conservative, and his family was extremely patriarchal. Chen was often ridiculed for his svelte body and non-masculine personality. At a time when he was feeling vulnerable, he read the screenplay book of director Ang Lee's "The Wedding Banquet," in which photos of gay New Yorkers proudly taking to the streets gave him strength. The pain of dealing with sexuality and growing up would become a recurring theme in his future novels.

After being accepted to Fu Jen Catholic University to study for a degree in English, he moved to Taipei. He published his first short story, "The Generation of Blossoming Nails (指甲長花的世代)" at the age of 26, and continued to publish books such as "Attitude (態度)," "Three Ways to Get Rid of Allergies (去過敏的三種方法)," and "The Ninth Body (第九個身體)," all which have been recognized with a number of literary awards.

In 1998, he headed to Germany, formally settling in Berlin in 2004, as the liberal social atmosphere of the city had enabled him to focus on his writing. Later, he published best-sellers including "Rebellious Berlin (叛逆柏林)" and "Berlin Rebels On (柏林繼續叛逆)." From 2019 through 2022, Chen published the long-form novels "Ghost Town (鬼地方)," "Florida Metamorphosis (佛羅里達變形記)," and "Die guten Menschen von oben (樓上的好人)."

"Ghost Town" incorporates elements of Chen's real-life experiences, despite seeming to be a fantastical tale. Set against the backdrop of Chen's hometown of Yongjing, its protagonist Chen Tian-hong returns from living in Germany, only to be confronted by the emotions and disputes of three generations of his family. The story switches constantly between mundane and ghostly perspectives, revealing layer by layer the love-hate relationships, the horror and ruthlessness of the times, and how the town of Yongjing gradually descends into what the protagonist calls a "ghost town."

The novel won the Golden Tripod Award, the annual Taiwan Literary Awards, and has been selected as one of the “Top 20 Novels by Taiwanese Writers born Since 1970" by the magazine "Wenhsun (文訊)," as well as being selected for the International Book Fair Award. Upon the publication of its English edition in the UK in 2022, "Ghost Town" was warmly received in the UK and US literary world, and has been selected for the New York Times Fall Book List, Booklist, and Library Journal’s starred book reviews. Chen says that the New York Times book review was particularly meaningful for him, even a dream come true, because he had long hoped that one day they would publish a review of his work.

The stories written by Chen are expansive, with a vast array of memories outlining the landscape, as the protagonists travel to distant places and look back at their hometowns. The memories evoked in his novels also reflect the reality of both Yongjing, where he grew up, and Berlin, where he now lives.

Kevin Chen keeps going back to the past through his writing, recalling life experiences that were deliberately forgotten in the past, trying to understand the trauma deep inside. His writing, he says, has no goal, unlike many writers who encounter great frustration and want to write about reconciliation, to seek answers, but may end up with no solutions. Chen feels that not everything needs to be reconciled, and that sometimes those irreconcilable things are the source of his fiction.