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Reviewed by:
  • Immigrant Subjectivities in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Literatures
  • Kelly L. Richardson
Sheng-mei Ma. Immigrant Subjectivities in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Literatures. Albany, NY: SUNY P, 1998. ix + 188 pp.

In his introduction to Immigrant Subjectivities, Sheng-mei Ma asserts that his exploration of immigrant representations of Asian and Asian Americans brings together “ethnic, postcolonial, and area studies.” Ma organizes his discussion into three parts. Part One, “The Representation of the Asian Other,” explores constructions of immigrant identity in contemporary fiction. The focus of Chapter One, “Native Informants and Ethnographic Feminism in Asian American Texts,” is the work of Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and D. Roberts. The critic discusses the “triangular relationship” existing among immigrant figures who relay their stories to Asian American tellers who, in turn, present the stories in a way targeted to an American audience. The next chapter, “Orientalism in Chinese American Discourse: Body and Pidgin,” argues that many Chinese American writers distance themselves from the Chinese by using negative stereotypes in their work (even while they may problematize them); the purpose is, he claims, to show that they themselves are a part of the dominant culture. Ma then examines the trope of immigrant schizophrenia, discussing the works of four Asian diaspora writers: Pai Hsien-yung, Nieh Hua-ling, Bharati Mukherjee, and Kazuo Ishiguro. The author concludes that mental breaks in characters often occur as they move away from their native land into an alienating Western environment.

Part Two, “Immigrant Subjectivity through Eroticism,” focuses particularly on the representation of the white female body. Chapter Four’s “Interracial Eroticism in Asian American Literature: Male Subjectivity and White Bodies” discusses the way that white female physicality has traditionally been seen as both a source of beauty and power for the male immigrant or ethnic writer (unlike female writers who do not eroticize interracial relationships in the same way). Because of this idealization, Ma notes, these writers often stereotype women. He follows in the next chapter with an investigation of the connection between race and gender in the works of Carlos Bulosan.

The position of Taiwanese immigrants is the subject of the third part, “Immigrant Self Representation.” “Immigrant Subjectivities and Desires in Overseas Student Literature: Chinese, Postcolonial, or Minority Text?” argues [End Page 210] for an interdisciplinary approach to overseas student literature. Next, “An Island of Immigrants: Nativist Critique of Taiwan’s Compradorism” describes how nativist literature, in its attempt to celebrate the rural setting, often depicts the negative side of commercialism and Western influence, particularly in the form of the American GI and American corporations. In his final chapter, Ma argues that Ang Lee is a cinematic example of overseas student literature, and that his movies are more popular when they lessen the amount of “immigrant nostalgia” and give instead an “exotic tour” of cultural practices as a way to reach a global audience. Through effective applications, thoughtful analyses, and a strong theoretical foundation, Ma explores clearly issues of identity in Asian and Asian American texts. Overall, he provides a compelling portrait of immigrant and ethnic writers interrogating, dismissing, and reshaping cultural forces in their search for a cohesive subjectivity.

Kelly L. Richardson
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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pp. 210-211
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