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The Original Siamese Twins in American Culture
Conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker have fascinated the world since the nineteenth century. In her captivating book, Chang and Eng Reconnected, Cynthia Wu traces the “Original Siamese Twins” through the terrain of American culture, showing how their inseparability underscored tensions between individuality and collectivity in the American popular imagination.
Using letters, medical documents and exhibits, literature, art, film, and family lore, Wu provides a trans-historical analysis that presents the Bunkers as both a material presence and as metaphor. She also shows how the twins figure in representations of race, disability, and science in fictional narratives about nation building.
As astute entrepreneurs, the twins managed their own lives; nonetheless, as Chang and Eng Reconnected shows, American culture has always viewed them through the multiple lenses of difference.
The Great Chinese American Novel
In the early 1970s, Frank Chin, the outspoken Chinese American author of such plays as The Chickencoop Chinaman and The Year of the Dragon, wrote a full-length novel that was never published and presumably lost. Nearly four decades later, Calvin McMillin, a literary scholar specializing in Asian American literature, would discover Chin’s original manuscripts and embark on an extensive restoration project. Meticulously reassembled from multiple extant drafts, Frank Chin’s “forgotten” novel is a sequel to The Chickencoop Chinaman and follows the further misadventures of Tam Lum, the original play’s witty protagonist.
Haunted by the bitter memories of a failed marriage and the untimely death of a beloved family member, Tam flees San Francisco’s Chinatown for a life of self-imposed exile on the Hawaiian island of Maui. After burning his sole copy of a manuscript he believed would someday be hailed as “The Great Chinese American Novel,” Tam stumbles into an unlikely romance with Lily, a former nun fresh out of the convent and looking for love. In the process, he also develops an unusual friendship with Lily’s father, a washed-up Hollywood actor once famous for portraying Charlie Chan on the big screen. Thanks in no small part to this bizarre father/daughter pair, not to mention an array of equally quirky locals, Tam soon discovers that his otherwise laidback island existence has been transformed into a farce of epic proportions.
Had it been published in the 1970s as originally intended, The Confessions of a Number One Son might have changed the face of Asian American literature as we know it. Written at the height of Frank Chin’s creative powers, this formerly “lost” novel ranks as the author’s funniest, most powerful, and most poignant work to date. Now, some forty years after its initial conception, The Confessions of a Number One Son is finally available to readers everywhere.
Empathy/Antipathy in U.S. Literature and Law
In her engaging book, Constructing the Enemy, Rajini Srikanth probes the concept of empathy, attempting to understand its different types and how it is—or isn't—generated and maintained in specific circumstances.
Using literary texts to illuminate issues of power and discussions of law, Srikanth focuses on two case studies— the internment of Japanese citizens and Japanese Americans in World War II, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the detainment of Muslim Americans and individuals from various nations in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Through primary documents and interviews that reveal why and how lawyers become involved in defending those who have been designated “enemies,” Srikanth explores the complex conditions under which engaged citizenship emerges. Constructing the Enemy probes the seductive promise of legal discourse and analyzes the emergence and manifestation of empathy in lawyers and other concerned citizens and the wider consequences of this empathy on the institutions that regulate our lives.
Anglophone Print Culture in Semi-Colonial Shanghai
Cosmopolitan Publics focuses on China's "cosmopolitans"-Western-educated intellectuals who returned to Shanghai in the late 1920s to publish in English and who, ultimately, became both cultural translators and citizens of the wider world. Shuang Shen highlights their work providing readers with a broader understanding of the role and function of cultural mixing, translation, and multilingualism in China's cultural modernity. Shen's encompassing study revisits and presents the experience of Chinese modernity as far more heterogeneous, emergent, and transnational than it has been characterized until now.
An Autobiography by Colonel Yay, Filipina American Guerrilla
In this 1950 memoir, The Crucible: An Autobiography by Colonel Yay, Filipina American Guerrilla, Panlilio narrates her experience as a journalist, triple agent, leader in the Philippine resistance against the Japanese, and lover of the guerrilla general Marcos V. Augustin, from the war-torn streets of Japanese-occupied Manila, to battlegrounds in the countryside, and the rural farmlands of central California. Denise Cruz's introduction imparts key biographical, historical, and cultural contexts.
For South Asians, food regularly plays a role in how issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and national identity are imagined as well as how notions of belonging are affirmed or resisted. Culinary Fictions provides food for thought as it considers the metaphors literature, film, and TV shows use to describe Indians abroad. When an immigrant mother in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake combines Rice Krispies, Planters peanuts, onions, salt, lemon juice, and green chili peppers to create a dish similar to one found on Calcutta sidewalks, it evokes not only the character’s Americanization, but also her nostalgia for India.
Food, Anita Mannur writes, is a central part of the cultural imagination of diasporic populations, and Culinary Fictions maps how it figures in various expressive forms. Mannur examines the cultural production from the Anglo-American reaches of the South Asian diaspora. Using texts from novels—Chitra Divakaruni’s Mistress of Spices and Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night—and cookbooks such as Madhur Jaffrey’s Invitation to Indian Cooking and Padma Lakshmi’s Easy Exotic, she illustrates how national identities are consolidated in culinary terms.
Gender, Culture, and Interwar Encounters between Asia and America
Between 1919-1938, contact between Asia and America forced a reassessment of the normative boundaries of race, sex, gender, class, home, and nation. Karen Kuo’s provocative East Is West and West Is East looks closely at these global shifts to modernity.
In her analysis of five forgotten texts—the 1930 film East Is West, Frank Capra’s 1937 version of Lost Horizon and its 1973 remake, Younghill Kang's novel East Goes West, and Baroness Ishimoto’s memoir/manifesto, Facing Both Ways—Kuo elucidates how “Asia” played a role in shaping American gender and racial identities and how Asian authors understood modern America and its social, political, and cultural influence on Asia.
Kuo asserts that while notions of white and Asian racial difference remain salient, sexual and gendered constructions of Asians and whites were at times about similarity and intersections as much as they were about establishing differences.
Reflections on Asian Bodies in Diaspora
Approximately twelve hours’ difference lies between New York and Beijing: The West and the East are, literally, night and day apart. Yet East-West Montage crosscuts the two in the manner of adjacent filmic shots to accentuate their montage-like complementarity. It examines the intersection between East and West—the Asian diaspora (or more specifically Asian bodies in diaspora) and the cultural expressions by and about people of Asian descent on both sides of the Pacific. Following the introduction "Establishing Shots," the book is divided into seven intercuts, which in turn subdivide into dialectically paired chapters focusing on specific body parts or attributes. The range of material examined is broad and rich: the iconography of the opium den in film noir, the writings of Asian American novelists, the swordplay and kung fu film, Japanese anime, the "Korean Wave" (including soap operas like Winter Sonata and the cult thriller Oldboy), Rogers and Hammerstein’s Orientalist musicals, the comic Blackhawk, the superstar status of the Dalai Lama, and the demise of Hmong refugees and Chinese retirees in the U.S. Highly original and immensely readable, East-West Montage will appeal to many working in a range of disciplines, including Asian studies, Asian American studies, cultural studies, ethnic studies, film studies, popular culture, and literary criticism.
Reading Food in Asian American Literature
The French epicure and gastronome Brillat-Savarin declared, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are." Wenying Xu infuses this notion with cultural-political energy by extending it to an ethnic group known for its cuisines: Asian Americans. She begins with the general argument that eating is a means of becoming—not simply in the sense of nourishment but more importantly of what we choose to eat, what we can afford to eat, what we secretly crave but are ashamed to eat in front of others, and how we eat. Food, as the most significant medium of traffic between the inside and outside of our bodies, organizes, signifies, and legitimates our sense of self and distinguishes us from others, who practice different foodways. Narrowing her scope, Xu reveals how cooking, eating, and food fashion Asian American identities in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, class, diaspora, and sexuality. She provides lucid and informed interpretations of seven Asian American writers (John Okada, Joy Kogawa, Frank Chin, Li-Young Lee, David Wong Louie, Mei Ng, and Monique Truong) and places these identity issues in the fascinating spaces of food, hunger, consumption, appetite, desire, and orality. Asian American literature abounds in culinary metaphors and references, but few scholars have made sense of them in a meaningful way. Most literary critics perceive alimentary references as narrative strategies or part of the background; Xu takes food as the central site of cultural and political struggles waged in the seemingly private domain of desire in the lives of Asian Americans. Eating Identities is the first book to link food to a wide range of Asian American concerns such as race and sexuality. Unlike most sociological studies, which center on empirical analyses of the relationship between food and society, it focuses on how food practices influence psychological and ontological formations and thus contributes significantly to the growing field of food studies. For students of literature, this tantalizing work offers an illuminating lesson on how to read the multivalent meanings of food and eating in literary texts.