Material that has helped inform my understanding of my Asian American identity, in some way or other.
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with questions, recommendations for the archive or library, suggestions for collaboration, or other thoughts.
A Tale for the Time Being (2013), Ruth Ozeki
WHAT IS THIS? This novel follows two perspectives: Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest, who finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox filled with artifacts washed ashore, presumably from the 2011 tsunami; and Nao, the sixteen-year-old owner of the Hello Kitty lunchbox. Nao’s diary - in Ruth’s hands - reveals that she wants to commit suicide, but will first document the life of her 100-year-old great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. As the narration unfolds to the inevitable tragedy waiting at the end of the journal, Ruth finds her life becoming increasingly intertwined with Nao’s.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? This book left a huge, huge mark on me, because not only did I enjoy every page purely for its worth as a beautiful work of fiction tying together Japanese and American culture, but I also got in-depth knowledge on a whole range of complex topics from the perspective of an American-Canadian-Japanese writer: Buddhism, physics, ocean tides, philosophy, cyberbullying, Japanese history, and much more.
The Sympathizer (2016), Viet Than Nguyen
WHAT IS THIS? Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, this spy novel takes the form of a confession from a conflicted communist sympathizer post-Vietnam War. The double agent for the Viet Cong narrates the contradictions, extreme politics, betrayal, love, and uncertainty of the dual worlds he experiences between Saigon and the US in 1975.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? Nguyen left Ban Me Thuot (where he was born) in South Vietnam and came to the US with his family as a refugee in 1975. I was totally taken aback when his debut novel won the Pulitzer Prize, not because the plot, narrator and characters aren’t super smart, personal, hilarious, dark, biting, thrilling, historical, and suspenseful - the book is all of those things and more - but because a constant, eloquent, and persuasive undercurrent to the book is how superior Eastern communism is to Western capitalism. And now a bunch of Americans are reading it who have no idea what they are getting into. That seems like a pretty big victory for leftist refugees and Asians everywhere.
Forgotten Country (2012), Catherine Chung
WHAT IS THIS? Chung’s debut novel centers around Korean-American twenty-something Janie as her family experiences a double tragedy - the inexplicable disappearance of the protagonist’s sister, and her father’s diagnosis of cancer. When Janie’s parents decide to move back to Korea, they charge her with the task of finding her sister and bringing her back into the family.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? This book shows the impossibility, love, and loss inherent between and amongst generations in immigrant families. The simplicity of Chung’s writing, the flashbacks to the narrator and her sister’s childhood, and the unexpectedly relatable family dynamics created almost a teen fiction vibe to me - fertile ground for me to cry through the last 100 pages. I wish this book had been around for me to read through when I was growing up, for me to contextualize a little better the dynamics between me, my brother and my parents.
In the Country (2015), Mia Alvar
WHAT IS THIS? This collection of nine short stories follows women and men of the Philippines and its diaspora. Characters including a pharmacist, a teacher, a housemaid, and a college student find themselves uprooted and struggling to find home in Manila, New York, Bahrain, and more.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? The short stories in this collection really run the gamut of diasporic Filipino narratives. Stories move effortlessly from the Philippines, the United States, and the Middle East, stretching the conventional narratives we hear around the idea of home and family across generations, genders, tragedies, classes, and borders.