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More Asian Literature

I spent all week reading Yukio Mishima’s Forbidden Colors, which I consider a paramount accomplishment since it’s an arduous read. Mishima’s style is formal, and his prose is filled with tucks and pleats like texture of sculptures. The autobiographical novel explores how a closeted gay married man’s callousness strains the barriers between the two worlds until his exposure seems inevitable. He only finds freedom in conformity.

After Mishima, my interest in Asian literature has not subsided. A glimpse at the English translation section at Kinokuniya affords a full list of books that I want to read, in addition to the Hong Kong list.

King Rat by James Clavell
The time is World War II. The place is a brutal prison camp deep in Japanese-occupied territory. Here, within the seething mass of humanity, one man, an American corporal, seeks dominance over both captives and captors alike. His weapons are human courage, unblinking understanding of human weaknesses, and total willingness to exploit every opportunity to enlarge his power and corrupt or destroy anyone who stands in his path.

Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah
Born in 1937 in a port city a thousand miles north of Shanghai, Adeline Yen Mah was the youngest child of an affluent Chinese family who enjoyed rare privileges during a time of political and cultural upheaval. But wealth and position could not shield Adeline from a childhood of appalling emotional abuse at the hands of a cruel and manipulative Eurasian stepmother. Determined to survive through her enduring faith in family unity, Adeline struggled for independence as she moved from Hong Kong to England and eventually to the United States to become a physician and writer.

The Red Chamber by Pauline Chen
I have mentioned this one because this is a takeoff of the Chinese classic, The Dream of the Red Chambers. Set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. When orphaned Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to take shelter with her cousins in the Capital, she is drawn into a world of opulent splendor, presided over by the ruthless, scheming Xifeng and the prim, repressed Baochai. As she learns the secrets behind their glittering façades, she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue and hidden passions, reaching from the petty gossip of the servants’ quarters all the way to the Imperial Palace.

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime.

Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo
This is supposed to be very funny. Sung J. Woo’s debut novel, Everything Asian, chronicles a year in the life of David (aka Dae Joon) Kim, a teenage emigre from Korea, and his family in small-town New Jersey. Set in the early 1980’s, chapters that focus on David’s struggles with the cultural and generational divide in his new home alternate with vignettes from the viewpoint of other characters, such as his sister Susan, his parents and fellow shop owners in their central N.J. stripmall.

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Anyi Wang
I have mentioned this one a while back except I couldn’t secure a copy until now. The book is about nostalgia in both its constructive and destructive forms. The romance of old Shanghai, a world of class, taste, and style . . . but also a world of sexual exploitation . . . yields to the vulgarity and coarseness of a new and more democratic world. It follows Wang Qiyao, a former beauty queen whose life has gone sadly awry. Wang Oiyao, comes together with people, only to drive them away in the end, unaware of her impact on others as her country is on its people.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.

City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell
Will Kiehn is seemingly destined for life as a humble farmer in the Midwest when, having felt a call from God, he travels to the vast North China Plain in the early twentieth-century. There he is surprised by love and weds a strong and determined fellow missionary, Katherine. They soon find themselves witnesses to the crumbling of a more than two-thousand-year-old dynasty that plunges the country into decades of civil war.

7 Responses

  1. I read Dreams of Joy and Girl in translation. I love the latter and thought it was heartbreaking knowing that it was part of Jean Kwok’s personal experience that is being portrayed in the book. It is amazing to find so many books on China and HK. Do try short stories from YiYun Li. I thought she writes brilliantly.

    • Girl in Translation caught my attention because the writer came from Hong Kong(?) I am not a girl but I could relate the isolation and sense of repulsion that an immigrant teenager would feel. That the novel is semi-autobiographical makes it all the more appealing to me. I’m looking forward to reading it when I have a relaxing weekend all to myself. Yi Yun Li is a new author to me. I have to check out her stuffs.

  2. This is a great list- I’ve been wanting to delve into Asian literature some more.
    Have you read “Battle Royale”- I’d like to know if it’s worth reading🙂

    • Being an Asian–growing up in Asia and now living in America, my list of Asian and Asian American literature keeps growing. I’ve been mindful of the new generation of authors who tell their own experience. I will check out Battle Royale, thank you for the recommendation.

  3. Great list! My book club read Falling Leaves quite a few years ago – it was a popular selection.

    • JoAnn, the book has been mentioned and personally recommended to me on many occasions. I need to wait until I have a full weekend to myself to read it all in one sitting.

  4. How much do I love that you even have a place where you can find Asian literature all grouped like that?

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