What “Plum Rain” by Stephan Thome is about

Et had taken the war to reach the island. It had been at war for a long time: drawn into the “motherland” Japan, but its triumphant advance in the Pacific War in 1942 had not given rise to any thought that an enemy aircraft would ever be attacked. “A year later, fires smoldered on the hills; soldiers had started them to mislead enemy bombers and camouflage the entrances to the shafts. Last summer, the newspaper celebrated people on an island called Saipan for throwing themselves off cliffs or blowing themselves up with grenades. At first Umeko had imagined the war as a dragon, which destroyed everything with its huge feet and the wildly lashing tail, now she attended the sixth grade of elementary school and knew why one should not fall into the hands of the enemy alive: all became men castrated and raped the women. “

We are in Taiwan in 1943 and at the beginning of the second quarter of Stephan Thome’s novel “Plum Rain”. Umeko is its most important figure, a schoolgirl from the north coast of the island, which has been colonized by Japan since 1895. We will be told about her long life, alternating between childhood and youth and the younger present: until the summer of 2016, when she was 82 years old and long ago called Hsiao Mei again, because her Japanese first name after the defeat and the departure of the former colonial rulers was no longer opportune in Taiwan.

Subtle literary work on Far Eastern thinking

In 1945, the island was again added to China, which it had had to cede to Japan fifty years earlier, and the previous Japaneseization of Taiwan was promptly replaced by an equally radical Sinization, which showed just as little consideration for the residents. In addition, mass immigration began when the defeat of the Republic of China against Mao’s communist rebels became foreseeable: Not only the Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek left for Taiwan, but also millions of his followers with and after him. Taiwan thus became a residue of the old republic, for whose conquest the forces of the young communist people’s republic were insufficient because the United States guaranteed the existence of Chiang’s island regime. That is the origin of one of the most delicate conflicts of our time: Today, three quarters of a century later, Chinese aircraft from the mainland are testing the defensive readiness of the island, which Beijing regards as a breakaway, by deliberately violating Taiwanese airspace. It never belonged to the People’s Republic. But Taiwan could not survive without protection from the Americans.

Stephan Thome:


Stephan Thome: “Plum rain”. Novel. Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin 2021. 526 pp., Hardcover, € 25.
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Image: Publisher

You cannot imagine a politically more topical novel than “Plum Rain”, although Stephan Thome, while writing it, could not have known that the Chinese provocations would escalate again just before the publication of his book. But Thome knew the previous ones; he has lived in Taiwan for years, speaks fluent Chinese, is married to a Taiwanese woman and regards the country as his second home. We have known what kind of local historian this author is since his debut novel “Grenzgang” from 2009, which he wrote in Taiwan, but which is based in Thome’s hometown of Biedenkopf in Central Hesse. In 2018 he entered his new world with the historical novel “God of the Barbarians”, set in the imperial China of the nineteenth century. There he showed how subtly he can literarize Far Eastern thinking. But there was still a German protagonist. In “Plum Rain” all the important figures are now Taiwanese.

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