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I am in a writing mood right now, plus I don't have to go to work today.


Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Fifth Book of Peace" - Half fiction, half memoir, this is about Kingston's struggle to find a way out of war and to bring peace to everyone. The book is divided into four sections - Fire, Water, Paper, Earth. Fire is about the Oakland hills fire that destroyed her home right after her father's funeral. Water is a fictionalized account of her time in Hawaii using a character from one of her previous books, Wittman Ah Sing, during the Vietnam war. Wittman is a war resister who evades the draft by flying to Hawaii with his white wife and their mixed-race son, where they meet all sorts of people and encounter the idea of "Sanctuary". I forget where Paper and Earth split off, but these chapters are about the years after the Oakland fire, where Kingston gathers a group of war veterans, mostly from Vietnam, but from Korea and WWII, too to start a writing workshop, so they can write their way out of their pain. I admit, I disliked the Water chapter the most for somewhat irrational reasons. The entire book is well-written; it's just that I prefer reading about Kingston's actual experiences as opposed to her fiction, which seems to me to be thinly veiled autobiography anyway. She mentions that she started the writing workshop for veterans as partly as a way to help her brothers cope with the trauma of war, but they don't come. (It makes me wonder how her brothers felt, fighting in the Vietnam war.) This book was published in 2004, but the workshop had been going on since the original Iraq war. Overall the book is good, but you have to have patience with the way the narrative jumps all over the place, and also when Kingston seems to drop in weird non-sequiturs and then never addresses them again. The workshop's writing has turned into the new book Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace. Excerpts can be read at Bill Moyers Journal website.

I still think from what I've read so far of her writing, that Woman Warrior was her best work. Interestingly, in this book she clarifies what actually happened with her parents when they immigrated here. She felt safe finally telling their stories for real now that they were dead and can't be deported.


Top Chef 4 Star All Stars: Top Chef is one of those Project Runway spin-offs that was actually successful. This episode was a one-off before the start of Season 3, and pitted Season 1 against Season 2. It was so funny that the arrogant pricks from each season ended up being the team captains and basically went head-to-head against each other. I do have to say, I liked Stephen a lot more this time around.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: There's been some discussion online-the powers-that-be at HBO decided to center the story on a part-white Sioux doctor who marries a white woman, neither of whom actually appear in the work this was based on because "Everyone felt very strongly that we needed a white character or a part-white, part-Indian character to carry a contemporary white audience through this project," Daniel Giat, the writer who adapted the book for HBO Films, told a group of television writers earlier this year. I didn't really read all this stuff going in, but dude, this guy thinks only white people watch HBO? And that white people care only about watching other white people? Talk about low expectations.

I should preface this by saying that I know literally nothing about the Sioux or most Native Americans and their stories. Anyway, although I liked the actor who played Charles Eastman, because he reminded me of a young Chow-Yun-Fat, I thought his story fell kind of flat. There was decent acting in those scenes, but if his entire purpose was to connect the viewer with the rest of the Sioux who were forced from their land, it didn't really work. The story overall was very affecting, and really depressing. I didn't think the film itself, as a stand-alone product was that bad, and it made me want to find out more about the Sioux. Obviously, though, I know nothing about what actually happened or I would be more pissed off, probably. I would argue, though that we didn't get to see enough of the Sioux, and saw too much of the American government.

Pam Noles' post about Bury My Heart.

Statement by Hanay Geiogamah, Professor of Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, Director, UCLA American Indian Studies Center - he had some serious issues with it.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the book.

John Tucker Must Die - Teen movie fluff. It was enjoyable and not deep at all, even though we are informed that the main character likes Elvis Costello and Dave Eggers. Introduced me to the stereotype of "vegan is code for slut". When did that happen?
toastykitten: (Default)
I just found out that Amazon has an entire section devoted to Hong Kong Category III films.

Lost Mitten's Etsy Shop full of Nintendo crafty stuff is awesome.

HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux - I especially like 3.3 - Don't Call Women Bitches. You would think that's obvious, but apparently not.

I've been completely riveted by the story of the fake Stanford student that was just discovered. I wonder what's going to happen to her now.

Immigrants from China, India and the Philippines in particular must wait longer than most other immigrants to bring in family members because their countrymen have tended to fill the annual immigration quotas for their countries more quickly than immigrants from other countries.
- Okay, this explains why my family had to wait so goddamn long to bring my aunts and uncles over. The rest of the article is an informative if depressing read about why the new proposed immigration bill will really, really suck for Asian immigrants and their families. *sigh*

A cat shooting game.

Maxine Hong Kingston was on the latest guest on the Bill Moyers Journal. They talked about her writing and meditation workshops for veterans of war. Some of the writing has been collected into a book called Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace. I thought it was a very touching episode, and it was interesting to hear her talk. I didn't realize how old she was - she mentioned growing up during World War II and watching relatives in uniform go off to war. It hit me - she's about or as old as my dad, then. How strange.
toastykitten: (Default)
I finally finished reading A History of God, by Karen Armstrong. I thought her ending was kind of weak. It ends with a poem, and a lament about our apparently directionless generation. I dislike the whole "atheists have no direction" kind of talk, because I think it's kind of disingenuous. I realize that a lot of people need "God", or at least an idea of one, in order to deal with the mess that is the world today, but I don't think atheists are lacking in direction or moral guidance. Maybe some are, but I haven't really met any that need that sort of compass.

I just started The Fifth Book of Peace, by Maxine Hong Kingston. Kingston is one of my favorite Asian American writers; I read Woman Warrior when I was just a kid. I think I got bored and started reading stuff from my sister's college syllabus. I remember her complaining about her Asian American Studies class and how she didn't like how the writers would incorporate Chinese words into the text, forcing her to figure out what they actually meant instead of just using the English words. Reading Woman Warrior was sort of like reading about my family, except a little off. Kingston spoke Say Yup; my family spoke Toi San. Her parents were educated; mine were not. She inherited all the baggage that came with growing up Chinese and female; so did I. She grew up in Stockton; I in Oakland. When she travelled to China she met with scholars and academics; when I went I got a tourist package where a green tea salesman told us watermelons had been infected with AIDS. Not to worry; they caught the guy!

Even now, when I first opened this book, I laughed in recognition when she said that she caused an uproar in her Chinese villages because she neglected giving red envelopes to distant relatives. I would have done the same thing - I never know what I am supposed to do, and the things I do know how to do I always mess up. My mother gave everyone she met in our villages a red envelope. She got upset when an old classmate tried to bypass her; the old classmate claimed that she thought that since my mom was lucky enough to go to America, she was now "too good" for someone like her. My mom talked about it for days. In the villages, I didn't know how to act - to me it was a long procession of people who were supposedly related to us but who didn't know us at all. All over people shouted, "Can they understand us?!" And, "Why aren't you married yet? I want to eat some cookies!"

(When I went to the villages, I finally realized why my mom shouted so much. Nearly everyone in that village seemed to be deaf.)

And I also recognized the places she listed - Rockridge, California College of Arts and Crafts, Skyline. I thought, hey, that's home. But it's a different home than mine. She lived up in the Hills, and I used to live down on the bottom, next to the freeway. So reading Kingston is almost like wrapping myself in an old, comfortable blanket. It's nice.

Other things I have been reading:

Bookworm's home goes up in flames. I am afraid this might happen to me.

Nonjatta - a blog for Japanese single malt whisky.
toastykitten: (Default)
Yes, I'm up too early.

The other day I was thinking about my like/dislike relationship with Asian American literature - in college, when I became an English major so that I could buy more books, I didn't realize that it meant I had to concentrate on dead writers from England. I didn't realize it would be more like a literary history of England, rather than a focus on writers who write in English. Once I realized this, I filled as many of my electives as I could with classes on American literature, Chinese literature in translation, and other stuff like that, where I could get away from dead white guys. Unfortunately I never got to take the Children's Lit class or the Science Fiction class, because they were only offered once a year and totally conflicted with my schedules.

The first non-dead-white-people's class I took was an upper-division Asian American Women Writers class, freshman year. Obviously, I was in over my head. Thank God for my wonderful ghetto education, where I had teachers who still cared - I think I may have even pulled off a B+ or A- in the class.

I'd actually read a lot of the works before, I think - I don't remember the exact syllabus, but we had to read Sui Sin Far, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Amy Tan (not sure about her, but she pops up everywhere anyway). I read Maxine Hong Kingston in sixth grade, when I found my oldest sister's books from college - I guess she had taken a class in Asian American literature. She told me she didn't like the books because the writers kept trying to use Chinese words - for example, writing "kwei" instead of just saying "ghost" or "demon".

I had a lot of trouble with them using the Chinese words, too - but mostly because I couldn't figure out what the Chinese words actually were. Tan used Mandarin, and Kingston used a dialect I'd never heard of, so I could usually approximate but not quite figure out what the words were.

Among my sister's books, beside Kingston and Tan, was Frank Chin - that figure of controversy who attacked Kingston for "not being authentic" and condemned her for attacking Asian men or something. I thought both of those were stupid arguments, but other than that, his writing was decent. The more I read in the genre (I don't know if it's okay to call it that), though, the more I got frustrated with it. Every time a protagonist expressed a desire to "be white" or tried to tape her eyelids so they would have a fold, I'd want to throw it across the room.

I don't have to relate to Asian-American literature - that's not what it's for, and god knows Asian Americans who are successful creatively get enough shit from their own communities for not being authentic enough, for airing dirty laundry, for not focusing on a specific experience enough, for not speaking their own language enough, etc. But it got really tiring reading about people who were supposed to be like me be so totally consumed by whiteness - something that's just totally alien to me - the only times I didn't want to be Asian, I wanted to be a mixed kid, because I wanted the self-confidence of all the mixed kids I saw around me. And also because I thought it would be more interesting than just being Chinese.

Most of the time, though - I'm comfortable in my own skin - I like being Asian. I don't stand out, and in the Bay Area, it's not like I'm a novelty or something. That's not to say that Asians don't face discrimination, but it's not the same - there weren't enough white people in Oakland for us to idolize or glom onto or whatever. Sure, there was TV, but the majority of the stuff we watched were black sitcoms. (And by the way, Friends totally ripped off Living Single. Just saying.) The racial tensions we felt were mostly between Asians and blacks - junior high was the most hellish expression of that.

And the other thing that got me about all this Asian American literature? None of the protagonists had friends who weren't white. What the hell is up with that? You're telling me that your main character who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, doesn't have one single black, Latino, or Asian friend? I just found that hard to swallow.

Anyway, the books I didn't want to throw across the room include:

Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Maxine Hong Kingston - I love this book to death. I re-read it every couple of years. It's an autobiography, but at the same time so much fiction is woven in (Kingston had said before that the purpose was to confuse immigration authorities so they wouldn't come after her parents - even though I'm pretty sure she wrote this in middle age, it says a lot that we're all so paranoid about immigration) that it's actually a different kind of work altogether. I don't know how she does it, but the way she weaves in old Chinese myths with speculations about her female relatives and her own understanding of what it means to be Chinese is so seamless that I'm always in awe of how she does it. Her next novel, China Men, about the Chinese men in her life, is less successful. I'll have to re-read it, because I don't remember it that much, but it took me a long time the first time around to get into it.

Bone, Fae Myenne Ng - I can't be objective at all about this book, because this book perfectly captured so many aspects of my life - from the protagonist's mom working in the sewing shops of San Francisco Chinatown, for the consequences of having too many daughters, for the way the male figures are simultaneously well-meaning and constantly misunderstood, for having to work and not relating to richer relatives who lived outside the insular world of Chinatown. It got everything right, and I was saddened, but not surprised to read that Ng, who took ten years to write this book, was criticized because she didn't represent some people's experiences.

China Boy, Gus Lee - This is an autobiographical first novel about Kai Ting growing up in the San Francisco ghetto and learning the hard way to take care of himself. I liked it a lot because he actually interacts with people who aren't white, and even makes friends with some of them.

Donald Duk, Frank Chin - A story of growing up Chinese in San Francisco, like so many others. This is the book where I learned about how the Chinese built the railroads and how they got shafted for it. Eventually I grew to dislike a lot of Chin's opinions about what he thought Asian American "authenticity" encompassed, but I really liked this book.

Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn - The majority of my Asian American literature is dominated by Chinese-American literature, which is probably my own fault. I keep wanting to read stuff about people who are like me. Anyway, I don't know where my copy went, but this is a really well-written, complex, layered novel about the Philippines and growing up in the middle of all that craziness. I don't know enough about its history to comment on it or anything.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie - Ok, I don't know if this counts as Asian American literature, considering it's mostly set in India, but I'm putting it here because I loved it so much. More books should be like this.
Aug. 15th, 2006 06:53 pm


toastykitten: (Default)
The Fifth Book of Peace, by Maxine Hong Kingston - I thought I'd lost it.

Currently reading: Memory for Forgetfulness, by Mahmoud Darwish. I keep having to put it down because it's so sad and painful. And it's about the Israeli attack on Beirut in 1982, so yeah, it's a bit too much at times.

In the intro, the translator says that Darwish wrote this after the attack and dropped it off at his publisher and never read it again.
Oct. 24th, 2005 10:54 pm


toastykitten: (Default)
My hands are writing English, but my mouth is speaking Chinese. Somehow I am able to write a language that captures the Chinese rhythms and tones and images, getting that power into English. I am working in some kind of fusion language, an American language that has Chinese tonalities and accents.

Also, Chinese is a pictorial language, so I work on my images and metaphors and try to show what that is all about. I feel that I have had to translate a whole Eastern culture and bring it to the West, then bring the two cultures together seamlessly. That is how one makes the Asian American culture.
-- Maxine Hong Kingston
toastykitten: (Default)
1. Your favorite *non-fiction* book

Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston. I read this before I was old enough to realize that most Asian American novels were rehashes of the same issues, but every time I open this book up I fall in love. This was one of the first books where I realized how much power Kingston concentrated in her deliberate details, how much she thought about the same things I did, and how much interesting material she wrangles from the ordinary details of living.

2. Your favorite children's book (from the age when you were being read to, or just beginning to read)

No one ever read to me. My sisters and I were the ones who helped my parents learn English, and that was from the citizenship handbook. My favorite children's book was Matilda, by Roald Dahl. I apparently like violent revenge fantasies. Also, did you know that Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, wrote porn? It's true - look up Switch Bitch and My Uncle Oswald on Amazon. I haven't read them, but apparently there's a bit of S&M in them.

3. Your favorite book as a young adult (define "young adult" as you will)

Er, I think by the time I was a young adult I was reading adult novels. But Francesca Lia Block held this weird fascination for me. Also, any Christopher Pike novel. I reread some of his stuff a few months ago; I wonder what he was taking.

4. Your favorite fantasy author

Hmm...I haven't read fantasy in a long time. Tolkien? C.S. Lewis, even though he apparently hates hippies?
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