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Eye on India festival, July 8th-17th

Posted by litdaily on June 22, 2011

Eye on India festival will take place from July 8th-17th in Chicago. The festival will showcase a number of events from literature to yoga/ayurveda…find out more>>

In terms of literature, Tarun Tejpal, Hari Kunzru, Shrabani Basu, and Nayantara Sahgal will be discussing their work at the Art Institute of Chicago.


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Conversations: Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”

Posted by litdaily on May 25, 2011

SD: In our current political climate, Mohsin Hamid’s novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, resonates with the trepidation, ambiguity, and tension that are characteristic of our post-9/11 world.  Hamid situates the protagonist of his first-person narrative, Changez, in a unique globalized and problematic space between America and Pakistan where the national and international boundaries become complicated by capitalism and terrorism. Changez disturbs these spaces by whispering to his readers in an intimate voice while physically sitting in a modern café in Pakistan and reminiscing about his life in the United States as a “janissary” of the American Empire. The rational delivery of his narrative, which at various times creates joy, suspense, thrill, shame, and terror, aims to disrupt not only space and time through a non-linear narrative, but also challenges readers to question the truth.  Certainly, he is an unreliable narrator but one that draws in his audience and dares them to believe an alternative truth through the very act of questioning itself.

Do you think that Changez’s voice disrupts boundaries in such a way so that American audiences might be able to question right from wrong, Pakistani from American, capitalism from terrorism?  Does the doubt that he creates through his act of story-telling powerful?

SM: Hamid makes the reader re-think the usage of the word “fundamentalist.” Changez is a “fundamentalist” because his profession is to evaluate the “fundamentals” of American corporations. He is not particularly interested in religion, and in that sense he is not a religious fundamentalist. His allegiance, therefore, is not to Islam but to a Pakistan that he thinks has been used by America as a pawn in promoting American interests at the expense of Pakistanis’. Changez says the following to the American across the table: “A common strand appeared to unite these conflicts and that was the advancement of a small coterie’s concept of American interests in the guise of the fight against terrorism, which was defined to refer only to the organized and politically motivated killing of civilians by killers not wearing the uniforms of soldiers” (Hamid 178). These lines suggest that according to Hamid, the “war against terror” is not so much a problem of religion but a political problem.

This play on the word “fundamentalist” is not a gimmick. Rather it points to that significant argument you make about the book’s connection between capitalism and terrorism. Changez belongs to a class of Pakistanis whose heyday was in the days of British colonialism. His grandfather and father both had been educated in England. But the promise of modernity that British colonialism was supposed to herald had fallen apart, and now “the money simply was not there” and Changez’s family is in a state of decline (Hamid 10). Changez is not poor but he dreams of reclaiming the promise of upward mobility that his family had once been assured of by getting a degree from Princeton and taking up a job at a New York financial valuation firm. “I felt I was entering in New York the very same social class that my family was falling out of in Lahore,” Changez says (Hamid 85). But when Changez’s American dream falls into ruins after 9/11 and he realizes his own complicity with the American empire as a part of its financial machinery, he goes from being one kind of “fundamentalist” to the other. In American perception, he is a fundamentalist solely because he is anti-American and not due to any religious fervor or belief in violence.

You taught this book as a part of an Asian American Studies class. What was that experience like? Considering the tensions between the terms “South Asian” and “Asian American,” how does Hamid’s novel prompt a re-thinking of the relationship between these terms?

SD: My students really enjoyed this text and felt that they could relate to Changez.  Because the narrative reads like a thriller and keeps its audience enthralled by constantly playing with the dubious figure of the terrorist, they felt that the author illustrated the reality of American empire.   For a significant portion of their own personal lives, “terrorism” and “terrorist” has been a central, pervading concern, a backdrop against which they have lived in.  The other texts we read in class, such as John Okada’s No-No Boy, Kim Ronyoung’s Clay Walls, and Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men illustrated tensions regarding assimilation and alienation prior to 1965.   Most of the students felt that “assimilation” has ceased to be an issue for Asian Americans and regardless of whether this can be debated, it makes one wonder what direction Asian American literature and politics is headed.

This leads me to your second question regarding “South Asian” and “Asian American.”  American academe still has a hard time incorporating Asian American into American literature.  This issue is reproduced with the inclusion of  “South Asian” into “Asian American.” Some might argue that the Asian American canon doesn’t easily include “South Asian” because there was very little South Asian migration and literary production into the United States prior to 1965.  The dramatic growth in the South Asian scholarship and migration, however, complicates the issue of inclusion/exclusion and one way that academy has incorporated “South Asian” into its curriculum is through other titles, such as “Postcolonial.”

How would you classify Hamid’s text? Would you call it “American” literature, “South Asian” literature, “Asian American” literature, or “Postcolonial” Literature?  Do we define “American” by the race of the author? Shouldn’t Hamid’s novel be considered American literature since it is set in U.S. and uses the American imaginary?

SM: I think the events of 9/11 particularly situate South Asians in the specific historical trajectory of racial formation that has defined Asian presence in America: the external “enemy” as the insider “alien”. Lisa Lowe writes that America’s relations with Asia and Asian immigrants have followed a distinctive logic whereby “American orientalism displaced U.S. expansionist interests in Asia onto racialized figurations of Asian workers within the national space” (5). This recurring pattern of history for groups as diverse as the Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans and Vietnamese and, after 9/11, the South Asians, makes the case for these groups to be studied under the category “Asian American.” South Asian immigration might have diverged from the pattern followed by other Asian American groups prior to 9/11, but the post-9/11 connection between U.S. war and intervention in Af-Pak region and racialization of South Asian American men as terrorists, a connection that is at the core of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, strengthens the argument to study Hamid’s novel as tracing the broader pattern of Asian American history and its challenges to the inclusionary narrative of America.

Works Cited:

Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.

Hamid, Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007.

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I Love Yous Are for White People

Posted by litdaily on April 20, 2011

Author Lac Su will be reading from his memoir, I Love Yous Are for White People, today at UIC’s Asian American Resource and Cultural Center, from 4-6.  For more on this event…>>

I know this is a late posting of the event but I think it’s going to be an interesting discussion.  He’s also previously written an article on CNN about Tiger parenting and the emotional damage it has caused him…>>

Although Chua rubbed me (and most of the nation) the wrong way (you can look up previous posts), something valuable did come out of her publication. There’s more awareness of the costs that are incurred by “model minority” hype.  Many Asians fall for this stereotype themselves, but few want to look into their past and delve into their family histories in order to see what kinds of emotional, psychological, physical and mental toll it takes.

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Karen Tei Yamashita Events in Chicago

Posted by litdaily on March 13, 2011

Karen Tei Yamashita will be reading from her latest offering I Hotel,  and will participate in a conversation and book signing, along with authors Audrey Niffeneger and Gerard Woodward, on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 6p.m. at Harold Washington Library Center…more>>

Yamashita will also be in conversation with Alexis Pride the following day, Wednesday, March 16 at 1p.m….more>>

Both these events are a part of Columbia College’s 15th Annual Story Week Festival of Writers: Class Acts.

You can find our recent “Conversation” about Yamashita’s novel Tropic of Orange here.

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Conversations: Karen Tei Yamashita’s “Tropic of Orange”

Posted by litdaily on March 9, 2011

SM: I first read Yamashita’s book Tropic of Orange during my first semester as a graduate student. Every time I have read it again, I have experienced new pleasures in its complexity. Yamashita’s deeply entangled web of the narratives of seven characters spanning seven days belies the order and coherence of the grid of “Hypercontexts,” with which the book opens up. The book presents complex, overlapping and ever-changing mapping grids as the dominant metaphor for the American multicultural city in the moment of globalization. Manzanar has the following vision of the city: “There are maps and there are maps and there are maps. The uncanny thing was that he could see all of them at once, filter some, pick them out like transparent windows and place them even delicately and consecutively in a complex grid of pattern, spatial discernment, body politic” (Yamashita 57). If the global city’s realities are magical, how do we read this novel: as a realist or a magical realist representation?

SD: There are many scholars who argue against a dichotomous and antithetical relationship between the real and magical.  For example, Kum Kum Sangari in “The Politics of the Possible,” makes the connection between the real, the marvelous, and the truth. She says: “If the real is historically structured to make invisible the foreign locus of power, if the real may thus be other than what is generally visible, if official versions are just as visible and visibly ‘real’ as unofficial versions, and if even the potentially real is a compound of the desired and the undesirable, than marvelous realism tackles the problem of truth at a level that reinvents a more acute and comprehensive mode of referentiality” (163).  This statement can easily be applied to Tropic of Orange where the distinction between real and marvelous or magical cannot be made with regards to the experience of internment, mobility, labor, and imperialism.  Manzanar, for all purposes, simultaneously exists within and outside of the grid due to the historical and official invisibility of internment.  The lack of linearity that his figure invokes alludes to a different kind of historical consciousness.

SM: It is interesting that the elements that make readers think of the novel as a magical realist one are manifested in its spatial representations: from the above example of Manzanar’s ability to visualize multiple maps at the same time, to Rafaela’s experience of the “elasticity of the land and of time” as she sees Gabriel’s property walls as “not straight,” and Arcangel’s pushing the Tropic of Cancer “ever northward” by means of “hooks and cables” in his skin (Yamashita 150, 152, 212). Parallel to your point that Yamashita does not portray the marvelous and the “real” as opposed categories, I would also suggest that in her representation of L.A. as the global city, she refuses “utopia” and “dystopia” as binary opposites. The freeway crisis in the novel illustrates this point. The space of the freeway is crucial to the geography of a city that wants to be a serious participant in globalization (Yamashita 82). When the freeway is brought to a standstill by an accident that brings together disparate plot elements, it is understood as chaos and disorder of dystopia by the car owners who are forced to abandon their cars and incur economic loss. But what is seen as crisis by the state and the wealthy is seen as utopia by the homeless, for whom the crisis presents an opportunity to claim for themselves the urban space that is responsible for their displacement and homelessness.

Yamashita’s compelling characters come from various racial backgrounds. But I wonder if it is taught as much in other ethnic studies courses as it is in Asian American Studies courses. Is there something in the text, besides the author’s racial heritage, that marks the text as Asian American? Also, Yamashita represents a moment when multiculturalism was still cool? Do you think we are beyond that moment in our culture and literature?

SD: Your insightful inquiries regarding multiculturalism and its tangibility in the present moment has prompted me to reconsider the years since Yamashita published her novel.  In the context of the Pacific coast, multiculturalism may still resonate because the population stems from a history of internal colonization, regional imperialism, and border crossings.  The sheer visibility of these histories in that region may positively impact the literary and cultural production that invokes images of Latino immigration into the United States. Recently, Alex Rivera produced a film titled, Sleep Dealer (2008), which deals with virtual labor and a global digital network that cuts across borders.  We will continue to see these kinds of representations about the influx of different kinds of subjects in the United States; however, I don’t think that these representations will necessarily lead people to think about their linkages with multiculturalism.

Also, precisely because of varying histories, certain cultures are granted more space in the American imaginary.  While Yamashita focuses heavily on trafficking between Mexico and California, I don’t think she is widely read in Latin American courses. This is certainly a problem of stereotyping where the author’s ethnicity hinders the reception of the novel.

Although I hope that we are not “beyond” multiculturalism in the United Sates, cultural and ethnic differences seem to either be contained within rigid structures or negated completely.  Isn’t this exactly what Yamashita counters with the powerful image of an orange that links different geographical spaces and people across non-linear time?

Works Cited:

Yamashita, Karen Tei. Tropic of Orange. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1997.

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Literary Chicago…Under One Roof

Posted by litdaily on March 1, 2011

Since we are talking about libraries on this blog today, from “The Book Bench,” here is a brief history of Chicago Publishers Gallery, a city literary treasure. The gallery aims to carry books and periodicals from every publisher in the city and the works of all authors from Chicago and Illinois. The room full of wonders seems straight out of a fantasy novel:

The two women [Lois Weisberg and Danielle Chapman] secured a room inside the Chicago Cultural Center, a landmark building with sweeping staircases and massive glass domes, and created what is now the Chicago Publishers Gallery, a twenty-three-hundred-volume collection of Windy City print. With its adjoining café and veined marble walls, the gallery feels as though it’s part Starbucks, part library, part crypt.

While the space is physically located in Chicago, its literary holdings attest to the global dimensions of the city: “…true to the boundaryless nature of publishing, for every Chicago-related book there are fifteen far-flung others: ‘Chinese Sculpture,’ ‘60,001+ Best Baby Names,’ ‘Album of the Damned: Snapshots from the Third Reich.’”


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The Space of the Library

Posted by litdaily on March 1, 2011

Hari Kunzru’s post on the library as a relic adds a nice element to my last post on the Kindle…>>

He reminisces about the meaning a library had for him as a child and the excitement of getting that first library card.  Obviously, if E-Books take the place of libraries (and not just bookstores), then the experience of discovery changes.  Already, during the course of the past decade, my academic research takes place not in university libraries, but on my computer, in my master bedroom.  The digitalization of archives and out of print books makes it unnecessary to travel 25 miles to my university in order to make an argument.  There is something lost — besides the lack of sunlight — and that loss is not easy to explicate.

Roaming the halls of a library, whether public or academic, positions a person in the center of knowledge and the possibility of acquiring, devouring, digesting, endless amount of words that have meaning.  The E-book cannot replicate this experience. it’s efficiency, moreover, does not allow the leisure of roaming.  It bring us right to the text.

On another level, as a mother of two young children, the library and the bookstore are not just spaces of exploration, but they are also spaces that allow community building.  When I had my son (now 4), he started his first library classes at the age of 6 months. We made some lasting friendships there with other children and parents that would not have been possible otherwise.


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The E-book

Posted by litdaily on February 28, 2011

Last year, my husband bought me a Kindle even though I raised multiple objections. I protested that “scholars” and “academics” and anyone who’s serious about literature will not read an electronic book.  I tried to explain the thrill that goes through me whenever I see a book — hardcover, paper, old, new, borrowed, bought — that’s waiting to be read, sitting on my nightstand.  I thought I would be the last person in the world to advocate e-reading.

But I was wrong.  Although I’ve downloaded only three books on my Kindle, I carry it in my purse and read it whenever I can.  When I surf Amazon, I always look at the Kindle prices, which are half the cost.  And the best part is that reading electronically hasn’t really changed my experience of reading at all.  That’s why Dan Agin’s article in Huffington Post makes so much sense…more>>

Agin, who has been in the American publishing world since 1945, says that American publishing has always followed the principles of marketing and selling books. American publishing believes that people, much like what I used to believe, want to purchase books based on the “feel” of a printed book rather than the words.  He states, “what the public wants is the blood and guts of the author, the contact of the reader’s mind with the author’s mind — and the most efficient vehicle for that contact is now the electronic book, the E-book.”

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American Media and India’s Success Story

Posted by litdaily on February 3, 2011

Anand Giridharadas was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last week, promoting his book India Calling, which we had blogged about here. His optimistic narrative asserts that the capitalistic American dream is alive and well…in India:

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Although people usually mention India and China in the same breath as “rising powers,” American media has been much more willing to celebrate the story of India’s success while portraying an economically powerful China as a threat. Giridharadas’s story of India as a land of oppression for his parents that has now transformed itself into a successful capitalist economy fits the narrative that American media might be more comfortable pushing. You can contrast Stewart’s reaction to Giridharadas’s book with his coverage of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s recent visit to the U.S.:  satire stirred with fear of manipulated exchange rates and trade deficits.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


You might argue that the difference in coverage of India’s and China’s economic success can be attributed to real differences between the two, such as India’s democracy or the Indian state’s sense of fair play. In a NYT op-ed that appeared a few months ago, Pankaj Mishra precisely dismantles the argument that India’s economic success has been infinitely better for its people and the world than China’s:

It has helped our self-image, too, that Indians have many democratic institutions that are missing in most non-Western countries. Thus the major narrative that has developed internationally about democratic India in recent years assumes it to be more “stable” than authoritarian China. Yet Beijing faces no political problems as severe as the many insurgencies in central India and Kashmir, or tragedies as great as the waves of suicides of tens of thousands of overburdened farmers over the last two decades.

Certainly, the narrative of India as vibrant democracy and booming economy suppresses more than it reveals. Business-lounge elites around the world revel in statistics about economic growth and Indians rising up Forbes’s rankings of billionaires. At the same time, they simply ignore the alarmingly deep and growing inequalities of income and resources in India.


In the article, Mishra also draws a parallel between Indian and Chinese states’ violence against their own poor in order to service the needs of global capital. Mishra, thus, provides an important counterpoint to Anand Giridharadas’s portrayal of India, but it is a story that American media does not want to hear.

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Anand Giridharadas’s “India Calling”

Posted by litdaily on January 11, 2011

Gaiutra Bahadur reviews Anand Giridharadas’s book India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking, an account of how global capitalism is providing Indians with opportunities to reinvent themselves and replacing the divisions of caste with new ambitions and hopes. Giridharadas’s account provides for complexity and contradiction, but Bahadur finds his theory, that capitalism is a source of freedom for Indians and an opportunity to radically rewrite their life trajectories such that “servants might become masters,” as both “seductive” and “inspiring wariness”…more>>

Giridharadas worked in India, the homeland his parents left behind, and he refers to the Indian Americans working there as “India’s stepchildren.” If “India’s stepchildren” are Indian Americans like Giridharadas, who have relatively comfortable jobs and whose investments are sought by the Indian government, I wonder in what category we might place the millions who are full citizens but extremely poor, and therefore of no use to the Indian state or global capital.

In his interview with NPR about the book, Giridharadas contrasts the narratives of upward mobility in contemporary India and America:

The defining narrative that Americans have told themselves about themselves for a long time is: anything can happen here, anything is possible…That narrative in America today is in decline…Walking around India, watching TV in India, you feel that India is possessed by a narrative of hope right now and America is not.

In spite of this contrast between narratives, both India and America seem to be headed toward greater economic inequality and lesser class mobility. Giridharadas acknowledges the reality of these economic forces as follows: “I think in both countries we tend to underplay the extent to which it’s the fundamentals, not the narratives that matter.” Contrary to Giridharadas, I believe that these narratives do matter. According to this paper released by The Brookings Institution, it is precisely the narrative of American upward mobility that makes Americans “more accepting of inequality.” And now with Giridharadas’s narrative, Indians too can possess American-style optimism about their upward mobility even as it is accompanied by an acceptance of debilitating inequalities as “natural” and a denial of the role of free-markets in exacerbating these inequalities.

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The Courage of No-No Boys

Posted by litdaily on December 30, 2010

It is heartening to see The New York Times’ Editorial/Appreciation for Frank Emi, a Japanese American interned after the Pearl Harbor bombing and a no-no boy, who passed away on December 1…more>>

Frank Emi was one of the founding members of the Fair Play Committee that argued that the internment camps were betrayals of the Constitution and of American values. The Fair Play Committee’s declaration is a reminder that far from being cowards, no-no boys were courageous, patriotic Americans who fought for liberty and justice when it was the toughest to do so:

We, the members of the FPC, are not afraid to go to war. We are not afraid to risk our lives for our country. We would gladly sacrifice our lives to protect and uphold the principles and ideals of our country as set forth in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, for on its inviolability depends the freedom, liberty, justice, and protection of all people, including Japanese-Americans and all other minority groups.

But have we been given such freedom, such liberty, such justice, such protection? NO!!

This editorial, like John Okada’s novel No-No Boy, which we had recently blogged about here, suggests that the no-no boys’ response to betrayal by their nation was as American as the decision of Japanese Americans to fight in the army. In the Preface to No-No Boy, Okada demonstrates that the no-no boys’ response was similar to what any other American racial minority or the dominant whites would have done in the situation. When a Japanese American soldier tells a fellow soldier, a “blond giant from Nebraska,” about “the removal of the Japanese from the Coast, which was called the evacuation, and about the concentration camps, which were called relocation centers,” the blond soldier refuses to believe at first (Okada x-xi). When the blond soldier acknowledges the reality of Japanese American internment, he says, “Hell’s bells…if they’d done that to me, I wouldn’t be sitting in the belly of a broken-down B-24 going back to Guam from a reconnaissance mission to Japan” (Okada xi).

Both Okada’s novel and The New York Times’ editorial are hopefully a part of the long arc of history that is going to judge the no-no boys’ anger not as an aberration but as an American fight for justice.

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The Endless Scandal of Arundhati Roy

Posted by litdaily on December 22, 2010

Every few months, the global media reports on the controversial politics centering around Arundhati Roy. Since publishing God of Small Things, Roy has been a force to be reckoned with, not just in the literary field, but also in the parameters of the Indian national government and/or world politics.  In many ways, she is what Salman Rushdie couldn’t be – a celebrity that disturbs the boundaries of cultural production and capitalizes on her sudden literary fame for the masses.

Roy has often been attacked by the Indian government and media for advocating violence.  Recently, Hari Kunzru posted an article on his blog about Roy’s response to the way that the media colludes with parties actually responsible for violence.  In her letter to Kunzru, Roy discusses the relationship between mobs and media…>>

And a couple of days ago, Rupa Dehejia, a blogger on Wall Street Journal, hypothetically asks what it would mean for someone like Roy to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She reports on the numerous objections that people had regarding her comparison of Roy to Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo…>>

Dehejia obviously seems reluctant to be outright supportive or critical of Roy but does make a strong claim for interrogating the role of violence with regards to an oppressive state in the realm politics, and not just philosophy and political theory.  She asks: why is Xiaobo a worthy recipient and not Roy, since Roy is ranked as one of the “world’s most inspiring women” (apparently, she is just behind Angelina Jolie, which seems like a joke and needs its own blog entry)?

My own question about Roy is very similar to Dehejia’s question. What is so threatening about Roy?  Why is the violence that she advocates different than the violence that someone like Frantz Fanon advocated in order to overthrow oppression?  I agree that Roy is much hailed in the First World as a political activist. In academic terms, she might be considered a revolutionary figure – a “Third World Marxist Feminist” providing a voice to the subaltern.  Regardless of how we term or categorize her, it doesn’t matter because she isn’t located in the First World where the internet has taken the role of protest movements and donating some coins in the grocery store counts as making a difference.

Maybe what’s so threatening about her (aside from being a woman) is that she is not afraid.  There is no fear in her voice when she combats the violence of the state, the media, or international government. She has never backed down from questioning norms and in this way, her voice does have power.

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Conversations: John Okada’s “No-No Boy”

Posted by litdaily on December 21, 2010

No-No Boy and the Debates around Asian American Literature

SM: I was intrigued by your central question in the blog-post “Asian American Literature”: What are the terms of inclusion for Asian American literature to be a part of the category of American literature? Since you have identified assimilation as a literary theme critical to this inclusion, and this past semester we both taught John Okada’s novel No-No Boy which explores the question of assimilation, I wanted to discuss how Okada’s novel can help us the define the contours of the relation between Asian American and American literatures. The novel is built around the historical events of Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that resulted in the evacuation of Japanese Americans on the West Coast and their subsequent confinement in internment camps.

I was pleasantly surprised that most of my students this semester had at least heard about Japanese American internment, whereas in the past any mention of internment was just met with blank stares. So how do we begin discussing inclusion of Asian American literature within American literature when significant events of Asian American history have been erased from the national memory?

SD: This question of assimilation and the inclusion of Asian American literature within the American canon is a tricky one.  Okada’s No-No Boy didn’t register with my students in any significant way – they thought the protagonist was incessantly “whiny” and “selfish” and they couldn’t see his personal struggles as social ones.  The issues of belonging, citizenship, and racialized identity – all tropes of assimilation – seemed outdated to their very experience of being American. Aside from these basic tropes, many felt that Japanese internment was a political anomaly of the past…until I reminded them of post 9/11 detention centers and the Patriot Act.

In terms of national memory, No-No Boy offers the perfect text that forces readers to critically investigate the relationship between nation and the act of remembering.  Okada’s “whiny” protagonist is one that internalizes a fraught complex of emotions that deals with remembering the United States’ imposition of rules for its citizens, non-citizens, and Others.

SM: The students find Ichiro a “whiny” protagonist because their other readings in American literature lead them to expect the central character to surmount obstacles after an epiphany and expect the protagonist’s conflict to be resolved in some way. But Okada’s novel never allows Ichiro much movement or a complete resolution. In her book Immigrant Acts, Lisa Lowe refers to No-No Boy as “antidevelopmental in the sense that its condensed, almost static portrait that takes place within the small period of several weeks…” (50). The novel is “antidevelopmental” because it challenges the dominant story that after progressing through various stages of cultural accommodation and adaptation, racial minorities can finally be assimilated into America. The dominant narrative states that all racial minorities and immigrants can become “American,” if they try hard enough or if they “give up their culture.” No-No Boy, on the other hand, suggests that such assimilation is impossible as it portrays that a similar fate awaits both Japanese American no-no boys and the veterans who fought in the American army. For example, Ichiro’s friend Kenji, who fought in the American army, explains the violence of Japanese American war veterans toward no-no boys, such as Ichiro, as follows:

The way I see it, they pick on you because they’re vulnerable. They think just because they went and packed a rifle they’re different but they aren’t and they know it. They are still Japs….The guys who make it tough on you probably do so out of a misbegotten idea that maybe you’re to blame because the good that they thought they were doing by getting killed and shot up doesn’t amount to a pot of beans (Okada 163).

Kenji’s words assert that fighting in the American army does not do much to change the status of Japanese Americans as racialized outsiders, who are always considered inassimilable and “forever foreigners.” For Lowe, the value of No-No Boy and Asian American literature lies in its power to critique the dominant story of assimilation, which is fed to us by all media and literature till we believe it as a self-evident truth of being American, and to offer an alternative account of American history (26). Does inclusion of Asian American literature in American literature or literary canon diffuse the power of this critique?

Your point of connection between Japanese internment and post-9/11 America is significant. Do you think No-No Boy is relevant in today’s world?

SD: Your analysis of No-No Boy and its critique of the dominant narrative is extremely accurate and pertinent to Asian American literature’s inclusion in the American literary canon. The textual tension that exists between Asian/American and American literature seems to be played out institutionally as well. Just as Lisa Lowe posits the contradiction of Asians as aliens who are linguistically and culturally outsiders that occupy a marginal place within the labor markets of the U.S., the American literary canon will always see Asian American literature ambivalently – as outside and inside American literary production.

For this reason, we should ask ourselves: has the status of Asian American literature changed since the publication and reception of No-No Boy? In my opinion, it has changed but shifted so that the overt racism that makes assimilation impossible for Ichiro has become insidious.  Similarly, the production and inclusion of such texts have also become insidious, from malignant racism to benign classifications that continually set Asian American literature apart. As far as I am concerned, there’s still a monstrous gap between “American” and “Other” (Immigrant, Third World, Postcolonial, Diasporic, Asian, Minority).

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World Book Night

Posted by litdaily on December 8, 2010

On March 5, 2011, World Book Night, one million books will be given away to members of the public in UK and Ireland…>>

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Gish Jen’s Novel “World and Town”

Posted by litdaily on December 4, 2010

In Gish Jen’s new novel World and Town, the world comes to an unrealistically pristine New England town in the form of the arrival of a poor Cambodian refugee family. The book focuses on the relation between Hattie Kong, the immigrant daughter of an American missionary mother and a Chinese father, and Sophy, the Cambodian family’s daughter who decides to achieve a sense of belonging in America by joining a fundamentalist Christian church…more>>

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Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies”

Posted by litdaily on November 12, 2010

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s impressively titled book The Emperor of All Maladies is getting the “Franzen treatment” at The New York Times as it was reviewed twice in the past week. You can find the reviews here and here. Dr. Mukherjee’s book is a biography of cancer and traces the politics of its research through the years, stories of cancer patients, and the changing metaphors for the disease.

Since Mukherjee grew up in New Delhi, there is also the customary (and annoying) Bollywood reference as one of the reviews describes that he “looks less like a scientist than like the leading man in a Bollywood musical.” With this book, Mukherjee joins the list of South Asian American physicians like Abraham Verghese and Atul Gawande, who have successfully combined the literary impulse with the scientific one.

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Terry Eagleton at DePaul University

Posted by litdaily on November 4, 2010

Terry Eagleton will be presenting at DePaul University as part of their Humanities Center Series.  The talk will take place on Monday, November 8 and will center on debates around science and literature…more>>

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Lan Samantha Chang’s Novel “All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost”

Posted by litdaily on October 8, 2010

Lan Samantha Chang’s new novel All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost charts the dynamics between two poetry students and their teacher in a creative writing workshop, and through their lives beyond the MFA program…more>>

Chang is the first Asian American and the first woman Director of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and she discusses the process of writing her new novel in interviews here and here.

Students love to hate creative writing workshops, even as they find something addictive and compelling about the specific chemistry between students and teachers that propels the workshop in either productive or destructive directions. Thus, the writing workshop is a perfect setting for heightened drama between characters. Also, the novel seems to be an appropriate form for assessing the influence of writing workshops on a writer’s work over many years. While Lan Samantha Chang might be right in asserting that reports of the homogenizing influence of writing workshops are “greatly overrated,” the workshops do make demands that the stories be written in a particular way. As a graduate student of color in a creative writing workshop, I was asked not to use “foreign” words while at the same time I was repeatedly asked to explain “foreign cultures” in my writing. I would argue that the most prominent feature of the people and the writing in workshops is not the tendency to homogenize, but something else, that according to Brenda Wineapple’s review in The New York Times, defines the characters in Chang’s novel: “a prepossessing narcissism.” In writing workshops, we write “songs of ourselves”. Some of the writers realize the trap within this narcissism while others find liberation in it.

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Writing and the American Dream

Posted by litdaily on September 27, 2010

Vietnamese American author Andrew Lam writes about the anguish his family experienced when he told them about his decision to become a writer:

And for Vietnamese in America, education is everything. So, for someone lucky enough to escape the horrors of post-war Vietnam and be handed through the hard work of his parents the opportunity to become a doctor, to say “no, thank you” was akin to Confucian sin. By refusing to fulfill my expected role within the family, I was being dishonorable. “Selfish,” more than a few relatives called me.


Lam’s essay illustrates the extent to which writing and arts are considered antithetical to the American Dream. Writing is not considered hard work or labor, which is the core of the meaning of American Dream, especially for immigrants. Lam’s choice to be a writer also brings to the fore tensions between individual aims and community expectations, as the community labels his decision “selfish.” It is ironical, then, that being a professional—such as a doctor, lawyer, or engineer—which involves amassing personal wealth and fortune is considered “honorable”; while writing a book or creating a work of art, which does not bring equal financial returns but instead brings visibility to the history and story of the entire community, is “selfish.”

Hmong American author Kao Kalia Yang’s memoir The Latehomecomer, on the other hand, represents her family, especially her father, as encouraging her ambition to be a writer to tell the story of Hmong persecution. Her father says:

It is very important that you tell this part of our story: the Hmong came to America without a homeland. Even in the very beginning, we knew that we were looking for a home. Other people in moments of sadness and despair can look to a place in the world: where they might belong. We are not like that. I knew our chance was here. Our chance to share in a new place and a new home. This is so important to our story. You must think about it, and tell it the way it is (Yang 273).

Part of the difference between Lam’s and Yang’s stories can be attributed to gender considerations, especially because Yang’s book dwells at length on the cultural value assigned to sons. The contrast between the two above passages demonstrates that while Asian American daughters might be encouraged to become writers; for Asian American sons, the decision to follow a career in writing invokes feelings of betrayal.

Yang’s memoir is remarkable because it cements the idea of attainment of the American Dream through writing. Throughout the book, Yang family has to continually defer their attainment of the American Dream because of their poverty. For a family that faced the consequences of America’s recruitment of Hmong in the “Secret War” against communists in Vietnam and Laos, the achievement of American Dream is finding refuge, a home, and family, even if they be in writing the words in a book: “We, seekers of refuge, will find it: if not in the world, then in each other. If not in life, then surely in books…. Together, we are typing on the keyboards of time” (Yang 274).

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DSC Prize for South Asian Literature Longlist

Posted by litdaily on September 22, 2010

The longlist for the inaugural DSC Prize for South Asian literature has been released. The prize covers South Asian writing in English and translations from other languages. This year’s longlist includes authors from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and the US…more>>

Historically, the term “South Asian” has been more widely accepted and used in the diasporas. Therefore, it is interesting to see increasing use of the word in the region itself. By using the term “South Asian Literature,” the DSC Prize marks the role of arts and literature in emphasizing the interconnected histories of the region and the possibility of forging a common “South Asian” identity. According to Nilanjana Roy’s announcement of the longlist, the Prize seeks to define “South Asian fiction” not on the basis of the author’s identity or nationality but based on the content of the literary work: its setting in South Asia, representation of South Asian characters or South Asian history. This definition of “South Asian literature” makes it more inclusive; it encourages a critical engagement with South Asia and discourages identity politics.

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