Hong Kong figures both as an early childhood memory and sometimes as a what-if question in Dorothy Chan’s latest poetry collection Babe. What if Chan’s parents had stayed and didn’t take the family to the United States, where Chan was born? What if Chan could grow up with a grandmother who was always around rather than someone she saw just on visits across the ocean?
In Water Thicker Than Blood, poet and professor George Uba traces his life as a Japanese American born in the late 1940s, a period of insidious anti-Japanese racism, even following the wartime incarceration of 120,000 Japanese, two-thirds of whom were American-born citizens. His beautiful, impressionistic memoir chronicles how he, like many Sansei (and Nisei) across the United States, grappled with dislocation and trauma, while seeking acceptance and belonging.
Epistolary novels can be hard to pull off: backstory and other details wouldn’t ordinarily be part of a letter. Kelly Kaur is aided in this in Letters to Singapore, her novel centered around a young university student who—paralleling the author’s own life—leaves home to study in Calgary, by setting the story in the mid-1980s, a pre-Internet, pre-mobile phone time when people actually still wrote letters.
Laura Gao was born in Wuhan and spent her first four years with grandparents in China while her mother and father studied in the US. When she reunites with her parents, she finds herself in the strange land of Texas where teachers and new classmates can not pronounce her Chinese name, the only name she knows. Gao writes about culture shock and identity in her engaging new book, Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American, a story nicely accompanied by vivid drawings.
In his new (but posthumous) memoir, Shanghai Jewish refugee Paul Hoffmann writes about his three most tumultuous experiences. One was enduring six months of Nazi Vienna, the other the terror inflicted by Sargent Kano Ghoya in the Shanghai Jewish Ghetto, and the third life under the new Chinese regime from 1949-1952. Much has been written about the first two, but Witness to History sheds light on the lives of the Jews that stayed behind in Shanghai after 1949.
Unlike most memoirs about the immigrant experience that center around overcoming hurdles to build a new life, Jolie Phuong Hoang instead structures Three Funerals For My Father: Love, Loss and Escape from Vietnam around her father’s death as he tries to escape Vietnam by boat in 1985. Her younger sister also drowned on that journey. It takes Hoang three decades to come to terms with her father’s and sister’s deaths and her book tells their stories and how her father did whatever he could to bring his family to safer shores.
Filled with memorabilia, photos and interviews, Berlin-based artist, critic and writer Xiaowen Zhu’s bilingual book Oriental Silk documents a Chinese-American family’s migration story. Tracing Ken Wong’s family past and cultural journeys, from his parents’ childhoods in China to their eventual relocation to the US and ultimately a flourishing business, Zhu reveals the dreams, hopes and struggles of the migrants in the Chinese diaspora.