May 27, 2023

Sunday Salon: The Chinese Groove, Crying in H Mart, Under the Naga Tail, Sunshine Nails

Books for AAPI Heritage Month that I started in May but will finish in June.

The Chinese Groove by Kathryn Ma
Published January 24, 2023; Counterpoint
Genre: Literary, Fiction, Contemporary, Asian Literature

Publisher:  Eighteen-year-old Shelley, shunned by richer members of his Zheng extended family in China, heads to San Francisco to live with his "rich" uncle, confident in the powers of the "Chinese groove," the unspoken bonds between countrymen that transcend time and borders.

But Shelley soon discovers that his extended family in the U.S. are not about to help him longer than the two weeks he was originally promised. How he manages to survive and be in a position to later help his uncle is the gist of the novel. 

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Published April 20, 2021; Knopf, library book
Genre: memoir, biography, Asian literature

Michelle Zauner tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at  school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother's high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of months spent in her grandmother's  apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.

As she grew up, Michelle's Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. 
 It was her mother's terminal cancer that forced a reckoning and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her. 

by Mae Bunseng Taing, James Taing
Published February 7, 2023; Greenleaf Book Group Press

Forced from his home by the Khmer Rouge, teenager Mae Taing struggles to endure years of backbreaking work, constant starvation, and ruthless cruelty from his captors—supposed freedom fighters who turned against their own people. Mae risks torture and death to escape into the dark tropical jungles, trekking across a relentless wilderness crawling with is only his willpower to survive and dreams of a better country that give Mae the strength to face the dangers ahead.

This memoir, written with Mae’s son, James, is an incredible story of survival, and a testament to the human spirit’s capacity in us all to endure and prevail in spite of great adversity. Under the Naga Tail will find its place among the most epic true stories of personal triumph.

Mae Bunseng Taing now lives in Connecticut; his son James lives in the metro New York area

In the Shadow of the Banyan
by Cambodian American novelist Vaddy Ratner 
Published: August 7, 2012; Simon & Schuster
Genre: historical fiction, Cambodian history, Southeast Asia
An award winning novel about a family losing a father and narrowly escaping the Cambodian war and the Khmer Rouge atrocities. 

A literary work of poetic, lyrical beauty, this novel is based on the real experiences of the writer as a child living through the time of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the writing, the author's use of poetic words and descriptions to tell this story of survival, loss, and emotion.

May Is Asian Heritage Month in Canada

It is interesting that Canada has also named each May as Asian Heritage Month, "celebrating the diverse culture and history of people of Asian origin in Canada". Their theme this year is "Stories of Determination."

This book fits the Canadian theme of "Stories of Determination."
Publication: July 4, 2023, Atria Books

Sunshine Nails by Mai Nguyen is a humorous novel about a Vietnamese Canadian family in Toronto who have built a nail salon that they have relied on thus far. Things change when an "ultra glam high end salon opens up across the street." They "will do whatever it takes to protect their no-frills nail salon - even if it tears the family apart." 

More reading: 22 More books for AAPI Month and Beyond, recommendations by Novel Suspects

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

May 20, 2023

AAPI Heritage Month: Two Memoirs

 AAPI Heritage: More Books

Week three of the Asian American Heritage month book reviews and features. Wrapping up next Sunday. 

Biting the Hand: Growing Up Asian in Black and White America by Julia Lee
Published April 18, 2023; Henry Holt & Co.
Genre: memoir, Asian American literature, race relations, biography

Julia Lee wants to debunk the stereotype of Asians being the model minority, who are seen as quiet, passive, acquiescent, sweet and polite.

The truth, she says, is that Asians are full of rage - first at their mothers for insisting on saving face, teaching their children to be decorous and always polite in public; and at the stereotypes of Asians propagated by society, beginning at school, and the racism and classism shown by students, teachers, and school administrators.

The author goes through the history of immigration in America, including the banning of Asian immigration for 60 years, before the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 relaxed the quotas. She cites the Korean shopkeepers caught up in the LA uprising and states that black versus Asian and minority myths are propagated by society at large to keep the minorities at war with each other so to keep the white majority on top.

She sees a solution in having all people seen as humans, not as a racial group, and be treated as individual human beings, and not as just a minority group.

The author is convincing in the history and the facts she presents for her case, and very detailed, giving multiple examples of racism and the violence and self-hatred that it can propagate. There is so much more to this book than I can cover here, but I recommend it highly as relevant to everyone living in America.

Julia Lee is an Assistant Professor of English at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. 
Her first book, The American Slave Narrative and the Victorian Novel, was published by Oxford University Press in 2010. Her second book, Our Gang: A Racial History of “The Little Rascals” was published by University of Minnesota Press in 2015. She has also published a novel, By The Book (2018), under the pen name, Julia Sonneborn. 

Publication: July 4, 2023; Scribner
Genre: memoir, Vietnam refugees, Asian American literature, women, immigrants

I thought again of how war separates families in strange and devastating ways, resulting in fractured relationships. Beth Nguyen was eight months old in April 1975 when she and her sister fled with their father and his relatives on a naval ship to the U.S. , leaving behind Beth's mother, who lived in another town. Years later, in 1985, the mother and her family arrived in Boston as immigrants.

Beth met her birth mother only after finishing her second year of college, but she had grown up with no curiousity about Vietnam, the past, or her birth mother. As Beth wrote," Our histories had separated long ago and had never truly met again."

However, Beth soon began to imagine and wonder about the grief her birth mother must have felt on finding her daughters gone when she went to visit them in the city back in Vietnam. Beth finally learns from what happened when her mother found an empty house, no note, and only news that their father had fled Vietnam with the girls those long years ago.

The novel becomes emotional for me, as the reader, towards the second half of the memoir, when Beth presses her birth mother for more honest answers about the past - how her mother felt and reacted to losing her daughters so suddenly. Though both her parents now have new families of their own, Beth seems haunted by what her mother must have felt and what she might feel still.

I felt that there was a breakthrough and that after her mother admitted she "cried and cried", Beth came to terms with the wholesome life she had had with her father and stepmother, and the new relationship she has with her birth mother and her family.

I feel I have not done justice to this very interesting and moving memoir of war and the aftermath of war on two families. This is a very worthwhile memoir for those interested in the Vietnam War, in refugees, and in the complex backgrounds and experiences of many immigrants.

The author:
Bich Minh "Beth" Nguyen is an American novelist and nonfiction writer. She is the author of the novels Short Girls, which won a 2010 American Book Award, and Pioneer Girl, and a memoir, Stealing Buddha's Dinner, which won the PEN/Jerard Award and was a Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2007 and a BookSense pick. She lives in Chicago and Indiana, where she teaches literature and creative writing at Purdue University.

Also writes as Beth Nguyen

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for access to these books. 

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

May 13, 2023

Two Memoirs and a Novel by Asian American Authors: AAPI Heritage Month

 AAPI Heritage: Memoirs/Novel by Asian American Writers

All You Can Ever Know
by Nicole Chung
Genre: adoption, biography memoir, Asian 
Published October 7, 2018; Catapult

My comments: All You Can Ever Know is an emotional and revealing memoir about one Korean adoptee's experiences as an adult connecting with her Korean birth parents who have also come to live in America. Nicole Chung knew that she was adopted as a severely premature baby whose prognosis did not look good for a healthy development. She later finds out the exact reasons her birth parents gave her up, and discovers she has two biological sisters. Even though her life with her American adoptive parents in Oregon was happy and healthy, none of these new revelations are easy for her to deal with, and at a time when she was starting her own family.

Nicole Chung delves into her own psyche and reveals to us her emotions, her fears and hopes growing up, and how she copes with the realities of her adoption and the convoluted procedures she had to go through to finally connect with her birth family. A must read for those interested in international adoptions and adoptees from Korea.

The book has won numerous awards. 

The author has a follow up memoir focusing on the middle-class American couple who were her adoptive parents and who raised her in a small town in Oregon, USA. The book, A Living Memory was published on April 4, 2023 by Ecco. In it, she also laments the inadequate and unequal access to health care that resulted in the early death of her American father, and the death of her American mother soon after from cancer.

Publisher's summarya searing memoir of family, class and grief—a daughter’s search to understand the lives her adoptive parents led, the life she forged as an adult, and the lives she’s lost. In this country, unless you attain extraordinary wealth, you will likely be unable to help your loved ones in all the ways you’d hoped. You will learn to live with the specific, hollow guilt of those who leave hardship behind, yet are unable to bring anyone else with them.

Stay True: A Memoir 
by Hua Hsu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Publication: September 27, 2022; Doubleday

Hua Hsu, Bard College Professor of Literature, won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for memoir, Stay True

My review:
In this memoir, the author remembers and honors a college friend, Ken, who died in a mugging and senseless kidnapping while in his third year at UCLA. Hua thinks of the What Ifs that could have saved Ken from that death - what if they had gone swing dancing as Ken had wanted that night, what if he had gone back to Ken's party in the early morning so Ken would not have been alone during that mugging.

There are many reasons Hua and Ken became friends even though they had such different personalities. Both were Asian Americans, but one was Taiwanese-American and a new immigrant, the other a Japanese-American with deep roots. already established in the U.S. Their love of different kinds of music and movies, and their interest in analyzing everything for fun and intellectual sharing are only some of the things they did as college friends.

Deeply moving in parts, Stay True, the memoir, ultimately delves into the minds and hearts of young university students as they search for meaning and identity.


I realized by a third of the way into the book that the title, Yellowface, refers to the old practice of using ethnic white actors to portray East Asian characters in film and on stage. 

The title was fitting for this novel, I thought, as the main character and book narrator, June Hayward, not only stole the unpublished manuscript of her Yale college friend - acclaimed Chinese American author, Athena Liu - but also tried to claim to be Chinese by changing her name from June Hayward to Juniper Song. Her book photograph also made her seem to be Asian. 

Athena's book detailed the World War II Chinese Corps of workers who went to Europe to help the Allies by doing the drudge work of war. June had to justify  knowledge of that subject matter and appear to be an expert also on the Chinese and Chinese history.

This was a complex novel as it was told from only June's point of view. I didn't know whether to hate or to pity her for her devious strategies to gain fame and fortune from the stolen manuscript and to maintain her false identity as a Chinese writer. 

I saw the book had two purposes, however, to show the history of Yellowfacing and racism, and also to reveal the pitfalls of the publishing industry for writers. June felt the publishing world's need for diversity, which led them to focus on promoting promising authors like Athena Liu, giving extra publicity and help to get a book on its way.

I thought this novel was a brilliant addition to literary fiction and Asian American literature.

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

May 6, 2023

AAPI Heritage Month: Memoir, Two Novels Reviewed

For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I'm posting reviews of memoirs and novels I've read and reviewed. Here are a few.

Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City by Jane Wong
Published: May 16, 2023; Tin House Books
Genre: memoir 

I liked the poetic prose that Jane Wong uses for much of this memoir. She has a poet's acute and perceptive reaction to life experiences.

I think of the book as a very personal account of her agonies in growing up among those who didn't understand or accept her - in school, university, in Atlantic City, where her parents ran a restaurant until her father deserted the family. Of having to field stereotyping, microaggressions, outright hostility, and more.

Her mother is the force that bolsters her as she goes through one heartbreak after another in her life and even in her failed relationships with boyfriends. The author does not dwell as much on her rise as a poet and on her academic career as an associate professor of creative writing. But I recall betrayals on her road to that position as well.

In this very honest memoir, the heartache comes through, as does her remarkably resilient mother who sees Jane through all her stages of despair and grief.

I was heartened to see that the author is a successful writer and teacher because of or in spite of all she went through

About: Jane Wong is the author of How to Not Be Afraid of Everything from Alice James Books (2021) and Overpour from Action Books (2016). Her debut memoir, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City, is being published May 16, 2023. She holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington and is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Western Washington University.  

Publication: June 6, 2023; SJP Lit
Genre: contemporary, literary fiction
Setting: New York City and Taipei, Taiwan

I enjoyed the two different stories of two generations in this novel and how they impact one another - the story of Rita and Jing from Taipei, who emigrate to the U.S; and the stories of their daughters, Narisa and Eleanor, who grow up in New York.

Eleanor quits her PhD program in neuroscience; Narisa disappears for good while a teen, after one too many fights with her disapproving parents. Only Eleanor and her mother Rita are left after her father Jing leaves the U.S. and forms a new family in Taipei.

I am left with amazement and dismay at the family dynamics, especially that created by the parents. I wondered how Eleanor would cope with that history of people leaving and with her mother Rita, who is left alone with the girls in the U.S. when Jing leaves.

The novel tells two stories - the history of the parents and their extended family in NY, and that of the girls raised in the U.S. I found both stories fascinating.

About: Elysha Chang lives in Brooklyn, and has taught creative writing at Blue Stoop Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, and Villanova University. A graduate of Columbia's MFA Program, she has published in Center for Fiction Magazine, Fence, GQ, The Rumpus, and others. This is her first novel. 

Happiness Falls
by Angie Kim
Publication: September 5, 2023; Hogarth
Genre: mystery, thriller, literary fiction
Setting: Virginia, USA

A most unusual novel about a missing father of an autistic, verbally challenged 14-year-old, Eugene, who cannot explain in words or actions what happened to his father on that fateful day at the park when Alan disappeared.

I was interested in the description of Eugene's inability to speak coupled with his lack of fine motor skills to use sign language. I enjoyed the mystery - a disappearance that may have been an accident or a murder - and a story that explains that a non-speaking individual that can't control their own movements could still understand speech and even be able to read.

Eugene's older siblings, the twins John and Mia, are intriguing characters, intellectually gifted; the contrast between them and Eugene stands out, especially as the twins try to understand how their dad, Adam, was testing and training Eugene in ways to communicate.

Using technical theories and examples re communication and speech therapies made made the novel more interesting. It was not a problem for me to have a mystery, complex family dynamics, and a novel about a severe disability be all rolled into one in the same book.

I did however, find it unusual and unrealistic for the family to emphasize only verbal communication from Eugene and not the use of simple hand signs for even a Yes or No answer, especially regarding his father's disappearance in the park. Perhaps the topic was too stressful for him to respond in that way. 

A thought provoking book re autistic and non verbal persons, and a suspenseful mystery plot. 

About: Angie Kim moved from South Korea as a preteen. She studied at Stanford University and attended Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her debut novel, Miracle Creek, won several awards and was named one of the best books of the year. Angie has written for numerous literary journals. Happiness Falls is her second novel.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for these ebooks
What are you reading this week?
Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

May 5, 2023

May Is AAPI Heritage Month

 Google Doodle of May 5, 2023

Celebrating Corky Lee (click on this title for the full article and photos)

In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, today’s Doodle (May 5, 2023) honors Chinese American photographer, journalist, and activist Corky Lee, who is widely known for his role in documenting the Asian Pacific American experience in the U.S. (Google)

Empresses of Seventh Avenue by Nancy MacDonell: Historical Novel

 Fashion in Paris and New York City during WWII   Empresses of Seventh Avenue World War II, New York City, and the Birth of American Fashion...