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




43 comments:

  1. I don't often read memoirs, but the Julia Lee book looks interesting.

    I started 'Pursuit - The Sinking of the Bismarck' by Ludovic Kennedy last night. Next will be 'Paper Ghosts' by Julia Heaberlin.

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    1. Curious about your book, Paper Ghosts.
      Yes, Julia Lee's book is fascinating. So many facts cited and true stories told. The writing is fluid and her messages easily carry you along.

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    2. 'Ghosts' is my first Heaberlin and the blurb certainly interested me! Review in around 2 weeks.

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  2. A great many Vietnamese refugees resettled in the Houston area after the Vietnam War, and I had several of the young children in my classes when I was a classroom teacher in the late 70s and early 80s. Enduring bombings and gunfire...escaping in a rush and leaving behind many prized possessions...sacrificing family and friends for a new, safe life...these were some of the things the children told us about their experiences.

    Thank you for sharing these books with us.

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    1. Deb, your experiences teaching the refugee children must have been priceless in understanding the full immigrant experience after war and dislocation, and loss.

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  3. Excellent review of Owner of a Lonely Heart. I will make time for this one in my summer reading.

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    1. Thank you for liking it. I enjoyed writing it.

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  4. Thank you, I found Biting the Hand at my library and added it to my wishlist. I couldn't find that Nguyen book but did find another of hers so also added it.

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    1. Nguyen’s book is to be published early July. I also want to read her earlier works.

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  5. I don't usually read memoirs but these do sound interesting.

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    1. I’ve been finding very good memoirs this month for AAPI Heritage month.

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  6. Both of these sound really interesting, if sometimes uncomfortable to read. That can, of course, be a good thing, particularly if it opens our eyes to injustice and/or helps us grow.

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    1. I like challenging topics every now and then

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  7. The Julia Lee book sounds like a must read!

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    1. It really is revealing and well researched/corroborated

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  8. I loved your review of Owner of a Lonely Heart so I clicked the link and saw there is a giveaway for it. I entered but if I don't win I'll get a copy of it.

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    1. They are both very good nonfiction books and I’m glad I found them.

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  10. Not a memior fan, but glad you enjoyed them.

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    1. I wasn't much of a memoir reader until I started reading memoirs for AAPI Heritage Month. May.

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  11. Both of these sound wonderful. So much to learn about the experiences of others...

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    1. I loved reading other's thoughts and research!

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  12. COYER is doing a diversity readathon in June and these look they would fit.

    Anne - Books of My Heart

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    1. One of the books will be published July 4, but the others reviewed on the blog in May would fit the bill.

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  13. Biting the Hand sounds like a really great read. I like that the author proposes that we see all as humans, not as specific races.

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    1. Yes, I agree. That is the right solution.

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  14. I like Rachel's comment! I hope you enjoy your reading this week.
    Mary @Bookfan

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  15. Interesting books! I seldom read memoirs or nonfiction but these do sound intriguing. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

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    1. Memoirs these days are surprisingly good

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  16. Your books look good! Enjoy your week, and thanks for visiting my blog.

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  17. Thanks for visiting!

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  18. Beth Nguyen's memoir sounds like an emotional read and very worthwhile. They both do, but I admit the second one calls to me more. I am adding it to my wish list.

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  19. Both books sound good to me! I've to admit I rarely read memoirs but I'm intrigued by the topics in Biting the Hand.

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  20. Your reviews are informative thanks. The first one sounds more like an essay -- and the second a memoir. but I am enticed by the ideas in the first one.

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    1. The author of Biting the hand talks about growing up, finding her voice as a minority member of society through other authors, etc. and her experiences with anti- Korean sentiments.

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  21. These sound like worthy reads. Glad that you are sharing them.

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  22. I haven't read a lot of memoirs, but it sounds like both of these were good reads for you!

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  23. Both of these sound fascinating. Thanks for sharing and for visiting my blog last week.

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I appreciate your comments and thoughts...

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