When Julie Shigekuni, author of the upcoming "Invisible Gardens," was interviewing to teach a first-time course in Asian American literature at the University of New Mexico near her home, she says this is how she was asked about the insights she would bring to the class: "Amy Tan has already written the Asian American experience. Why should we hire you?"
Tan also haunts Mako Yoshikawa, author of the June release "Once Removed" (Bantam), an explosive novel about two estranged sisters, a Japanese American and her American stepsister, who find each other after 17 years. "I feel uncomfortable with the Amy Tan legacy," Yoshikawa says almost reluctantly, like countless young women who say, yeah, I'm grateful to Betty Friedan and all, but jeez, isn't it time to move on?
Tan's 1989 novel, "The Joy Luck Club," presented a heartwarming picture of Chinese American life that enjoyed wide mainstream acclaim, but that many younger Asians felt was overly romanticized, even "whitewashed." Before Tan, the 1976 Maxine Hong Kingston novel, "The Woman Warrior," faced similar criticism, although her works contained more anger than Tan's. There were other writers of the 1970s and '80s — Chang-rae Lee, Jessica Hagedorn, Ha Jin, Frank Chin and Garrett Hongo — who also brought fame and credibility to Asian American writing.
Now, whether a result of that legacy or the nuisance of persisting stereotypes that insist Asians are quiet, studious and obedient, the bulwark of "immigrant fiction" has burst. A flood of vital, angry, sometimes violent and even sardonic new fiction from young Asian American novelists is being released this year.
Why are South-East Asians always ignored? I better write something this summer about their fiction. First, I better read from my haphazard to-read pile.
Posted by ronn at June 30, 2003 12:14 PM