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  • Creative Writing: Prose
  • James Kyung-Jin Lee, Chair, Viet Nguyen, and Gina Apostol

Gene Oishi said in a recent interview that it took him fifty years to write his first novel, which we honor today, and that it would likely take him another fifty years to compose another. “I’m eighty-one years old and a slow writer,” he explained only half jokingly. It was worth the wait. An historically important but aesthetically vibrant work, Fox Drum Bebop (Kaya, 2014) displays an expansiveness of time, space, and scale but never diminishes the individuality of its protagonists. Likewise, its central story of a Japanese immigrant family before, during, and after its incarceration in an internment camp reveals a richness and diversity of experience that isn’t reduced to grief or trauma. While the ostensible historical narrative is well trodden—how Japanese Americans struggled and suffered the internment—Oishi approaches this narrative with unexpected stories, tales that include moments of levity through jazz, adventures in Europe, [End Page 428] engagements with other people of color. While Fox Drum Bebop takes a long view of U.S. history, the novel doesn’t read ponderously; structurally, it is concise and coherent without losing deep affect and pathos. Oishi’s spare language and imagery allows for intense, visceral, and emotional attachment, but one also without sentimentality. Oishi’s reader is left with a sense of its sweeping scope and an equal sense of awareness and open empathy with each character’s decisions and foibles. Fox Drum Bebop is indeed a novel written with wit and wisdom, one that perhaps necessarily marinated for half a century for its story to be told. [End Page 429]

James Kyung-Jin Lee, Chair
University of California, Irvine
Viet Nguyen
University of Southern California


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pp. 428-429
Launched on MUSE
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