Review: Lord of Formosa, Joyce Bergvelt

Rating: 5 out of 5

In short, I think this ticks all the boxes. Quite possibly the closest thing from an European source I have seen to Mr Shiba’s ‘historical journalism’, Mevrouw Bergvelt’s investigation of Taiwan links the measly historical evidence we have with a solid narrative that describes Lord Koxinga’s struggle against the Qing and the Dutch colonization of Formosa.

Already the above will probably give a feeling of denseness. Fortunately, the book has a clear focus. The author is willing to jump a decade if nothing significant to move her plot along happens in that time, and though this means we’re not looking at a biography of Koxinga or the Dutch per se, we have a biography of the events of the final Ming defeat and Dutch rule on Formosa.

The distinction is minor though relevant, and of course a reader might want to investigate the subjects in more depth after this introduction. That, however, shouldn’t be a negative as the author’s goal of raising awareness of the Dutch rule on Taiwain. Perhaps the only negatives that came to me in the reading was that though the English version of the book is an original work of the Dutch, then some things that the Dutch might know instinctively were not expanded enough.

As such, the VOC’s Heren Zeventein was a term I had not come across before. This and other cultural concepts could have been explained in some depth along with a greater use of Dutch expressions in the English text. Nevertheless, these gripes are minor in comparison to the strength of this text.

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