Must-Read of the Week: “Without You, There Is No Us” by Suki Kim

 

Through a strange turn of events, Korean American journalist Suki Kim finds herself invited to join 30 other Westerners to teach English at North Korea’s Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, an exclusive school for 270 sons of North Korea’s elite. During the six months she is there in 2011, Kim takes meticulous notes, saving the documents only on a USB stick and keeping it on her person at all times. The result is the memoir Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, chronicling her interactions with her students, the iron grip of her “minders,” and the constant fear of being watched, of being reported, of saying or doing something wrong.

At times, Kim feels love and compassion for the young men in her charge; at other times, she’s terrified that they are spying on her. She can’t decide if they really believe the things they do (that the Korean language is so superior it is spoken in every country, that their Juche Tower is the tallest in the world) or if they just say they do for fear of retribution. They know of Bill Gates, but they don’t know about the Internet. They play basketball and are familiar with the NBA, but they’ve never heard of skiing. It’s a fascinating — and sad — glimpse into the most isolated country in the world.

 

Details: Hardcover, available October 14, $24, crownpublishing.com.

 


New Visions Award Contest Seeks to Add Diversity to Children’s Books

Story by Haein Jung.

Children’s book publisher Tu Books, an imprint of Lee and Low, has announced it is now accepting manuscripts for a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction or mystery novel by a writer of color—one of which will be chosen as the winner of the New Vision Award. The winner will receive a standard publication contract, as well as a cash prize of $1,000. 

The contest is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published. Manuscripts will be accepted now through October 31, 2014. An Honor Award winner will also receive a cash prize of $500.

“The award is a fantastic chance for new authors of color to break into the world of publishing for young readers,” read a statement released by Tu Books.

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The statement also noted that the award comes at a time when readers, and authors, are demanding greater diversity in children’s books. At this year’s BookCon, an all-white male panel dubbed the “luminaries of children’s literature” prompted an uproar and the #WeNeedDiverseBooksCampaign, an effort to push for more diversity among young adult fantasy fiction writers. Notably, Korean American author Ellen Oh, along with authors Aisha Saeed and Chelsea Pitcher, was very vocal in the diversity push, urging the public to take to social media to demand much needed change.

“At every conference I or my writer friends attend, there are kids asking why they can’t find books with characters who look like them, either on the cover or in the pages,” Oh, author of Prophecy (Part 1 in The Dragon King Chronicles, HarperTeen)wrote  in her blog. “The same thing happens at book signings, except there the kids are saying they’ve always wanted to get into writing, but don’t think they’ll be successful because they’re people of color.”

Tu Books established The New Visions Award in 2012 in an effort to offer never before published authors of color the opportunity to fund and start their writing careers.

“It is our hope that the New Visions Award will help new authors begin long and successful careers and bring new perspectives and voices to the science fiction, fantasy, and mystery genres,” said a statement by Tu Books.

For further details, including full eligibility and submission guidelines, please visit the New Visions Award page.

This story was originally published on iamkoream.com

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First Asian American to Win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

There’s a saying about the Asian American community. Whether or not this actually holds true for you, you’ve probably heard the stereotype that Asians Americans are expected to excel in the medical, law and engineering field.

While we obviously have a lot of respect for those fields, what about the Asian Americans who specialize in art, literature or film? Here at Audrey, we think it’s important to highlight the achievements of Asian Americans in fields outside of medicine or law. Believe it or not, we actually are interested in other things.

A perfect example is Vijay Seshadri who has become the first Asian American poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry yesterday for his book 3 Sections. The book is said to be “a “compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.”

India-born Seshadri moved to the United States at the age of five. He holds an A.B. degree from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. from Columbia University where he was a graduate student in the Ph.D. program in Middle Eastern Languages and Literature.

When asked about what the Pulitzer Prize means to him, Seshardi responded, “The Pulitzer is tremendous honor, but it somehow seems to me to have to do not with my past but my future, which is of course something I have to discover.”

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Purchase your copy of 3 Sections here.

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Must-Read: ‘THE LOWLAND’ BY JHUMPA LAHIRI

Story by Taylor Weik. 

It’s in the very first chapter that the title is mentioned. Near a country club built for the wealthy British in the locality of Tollygunge, India, there dwell two ponds side by side, separated by a lowland. Sometimes, when monsoons strike, the ponds rise in level so that they appear as one body.

In just a few short paragraphs, Jhumpa Lahiri uses her sharp observations of the plains of India to lay out her plot and describe the relationship between two of her characters, even before she’s introduced them.

In her long-awaited second novel, Lahiri — winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories — decides to take a more political route without straying from her signature lyrical style. Like her other works, The Lowland is a family saga that starts with the perspective of one and then jumps from family member to family member as they live out their lives.

The story focuses on two brothers, Subhash and Udayan Mitra, who grow up in 1960s Calcutta during the Communist Movement that has found its way to West Bengal. Though the brothers are exceptionally close and are often seen by their own parents as one person, the impulsive Udayan gets swept up in the Naxalite cause, a militant Maoist group, while the more reserved Subhash buries himself in his studies and leaves India for the quiet countryside of Rhode Island. However, it is Subhash who must later return to India to pick up the fragments of devastation that Udayan has left in his wake, actions that have altered his family in inexplicable ways.

The eight-part, 340-page novel is not as light as Lahiri’s other works. Not only does it dive straight into the complexities of each character — of how Subhash, Udayan’s wife Gauri and their mother each react to Udayan’s death, all while documenting the life of Udayan and Gauri’s daughter from the moment of her birth — but it also attempts to squeeze in decades worth of historical information regarding the Maoist movement in India. It’s a lot to take in when reading, especially when the point of view can change in an instant from Subhash’s ignorance of the violence in India to Gauri’s ultimate knowledge as Udayan’s confidant.

Though Lahiri sets the book in a little-known time in history, she still manages to make her characters relatable. Gauri, who is arguably the most controversial character in the book, fails to be a strong, inspirational widow after her husband’s death and thus illustrates that not everyone comes out of a tragedy in good health.

“That’s the enormous power of literature, that you can write out of such a specific place, and yet it’s really about entering into other peoples’ consciousness,” Lahiri explained in an interview with The New Yorker. “We’re less divided than we think we are. In the end, the stories become universal.”

Though the first half is packed with political commentary, the second half of The Lowland is where Lahiri’s incredible attention to the details of her characters’ lives comes in, and it’s where the reader can fully immerse herself in the fluid storytelling Lahiri is known for. The novel is a departure from Lahiri’s other works, to be sure, but it’s still one that continues to explore not just Indian American life but the human experience itself. Details Hardcover, $27.95, randomhouse.com.

 

This story was originally published in out Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

CONTROVERSY ALERT: Tiger Mom Claims “Some Races Are Superior”

Amy Chua is no stranger to controversy. In 2011, she gained the nickname “Tiger Mom” through her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother which advocated for a strict “Chinese” parenting style as well her belief that Chinese mothers are superior.

Now, she’s making headlines once again by taking that belief one step further.

Chua, a Chinese American law professor at Yale, joins forces with husband Jed Rubenfeld to write The Triple Package. The point of this book? To prove that certain groups of people are superior because they have innate qualities that make them more likely to succeed in life.

The Triple Package lists these groups as most likely to succeed in America: Jewish, Indian, Chinese, Iranian, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban exiles and Mormons. As the title indicates, the duo believe that these cultural groups have three traits in common which make them inherently more superior than others: a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control.

“Mormons have recently risen to astonishing business success,” the authors write. “Cubans in Miami climbed from poverty to prosperity in a generation. Nigerians earn doctorates at stunningly high rates. Indian and Chinese Americans have much higher incomes than other Americans; Jews may have the highest of all.”

According to NYDailyNews, the book also explains why some cultural groups, including African Americans, “might not have what it takes to reach the top.”

The authors seem to recognize that they are making rather controversial claims, but are standing by their work. The books publisher, Penguin Press, released a statement yesterday in support of The Triple Package.

“We are proud to be publishing ‘The Triple Package’ in February and we look forward to a thoughtful discussion about the book and success in America,” the statement read.

Although the book will not hit shelves until February, it has already gathered a handful of criticism (for obvious reasons) from critics and public alike.

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Asian American Novel Debuts World’s First-Ever 3D Printed Book Cover

First there were 3D movies. Then there were 3D televisions and game systems. Now, apparently, there are 3D book covers.

Riverhead books released “the first-ever 3D printed slipcover” for On Such A Full Sea by Korean American author, Chang-rae Lee. As you can see, the edges are slowly rising as if you were looking at the coverslip with 3D glasses.

So what’s the point of a 3D book cover? As far as we can tell, the main purpose is aesthetics. The cover looks unique and makes for a nice limited edition collector’s piece. After all, how often can you say you have something thats been 3D printed?

According to Time, each coverslip took about 15 hours to print. As cool and innovative as it sounds, Time has pointed out some difficulties with the product such as its bulkiness and inability to properly fit on a bookshelf. And let’s not forget that the price of this thing is $150. (Don’t worry, you can purchase regular copies of the novel for normal prices.)

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While we’re not quite certain if we’re ready to dish $150 on this book cover, we admit that this is some really advanced work. This is perfectly fit for a novel which focuses on a futuristic dystopian America. Even if you’re not appealed by the 3D printed book cover, you should look into the novel itself.

According to Polymic, “Lee has just published his fifth novel, On Such a Full Sea, a dystopian story of a post-climate change and post-racial America, and he is finally getting the attention he deserves. In fact, he’s just written a novel so sensitive to the plight of Asian Americans in America that it may well come to be the Great Asian American novel.”

When Fan, a 16-year old girl who is part of the the small percentage who live in luxurious gated communities, leave her safe confines and ventures into the “counties,” she threatens to break the system.

“This is not the first or even most incisive dystopian vision of America,” Gracie Jin of Polymic writes. “But it is the first in which the role of Asian Americans is crucial, the first in which betrayal — especially of one’s own history and family and past — moves its talons over the immigrant story. By writing American dystopia with Chinese-American protagonists, Lee asserts not only that Asian immigrants have been a part of the history and making of America (an oft told immigrant narrative), but also that they have a stake in the future of America.”

Illustrator Kazu Kibuishi Creates New HARRY POTTER Covers

One of the biggest fears that Harry Potter fans face is the end of the fandom. With the final book and the final movie behind us, what more is there to look forward to?

Yes, we will no longer have to worry about finding our way to Orlando since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, also known as the “Harry Potter theme park”, is being built in Universal Studios in Hollywood. And yes, there are now stores dedicated to the fandom sprouting up everywhere such as Whimsic Alley. And yes, sites such as Pottermore continue to give us new information provided from J.K. Rowling herself.

But is it enough to keep our Potter-fan hearts satisfied? Apparently not.

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Thankfully, creators seem to be well aware of our yearning and continue to appease us. For instance, in honor of the 15th anniversary of J.K. Rowling’s series release in the U.S., Scholastic released newly-designed paperbacks available individually and in a box set.

Eisner Award-nominated comic book artist and author Kazu Kibuishi designed the new covers. Kibuishi spoke with Bookish to discuss the pressure and honor of being chosen to do such a task:

Bookish: What are you most excited about regarding the Harry Potter covers?

Kazu Kibuishi: That I’m done? [Laughs.] I’m excited to go back to work on my own book, but at the same time, as far as the reveals go, I’m of course excited to see how people react. I’m actually most excited to see what people think of the entire set, because that’s really how I was looking at the whole thing. I’m really excited to see what people think of the back covers because that’s something I think that’s going to be unexpected. That was a last-minute thing I threw in there. I wasn’t sure if Arthur [Levine, vice president and editorial director of Arthur A. Levine Books] was going to go for it, but I said, “This is the way to go!” There’s a surprise.

A lot of people have asked me to talk about Mary Grand Pré’s work, and I keep telling them, “Look, we wouldn’t know Harry Potter without the scenes she envisioned.” She had the most difficult task of defining the look of Harry Potter. She has a tremendous amount of influence over what I do and what everyone else does [with the series] from here on out. I tell everyone, my job is easy compared to what she had to do. My job is to be a historian and take a look at how we perceive Harry Potter–how Mary actually designed it, and also to find some way to re-introduce it to the readers that I already have on my books. How would my readers want to move into reading this kind of fiction? I would take something from Harry Potter that I think my kids would want to see.

 

Bookish: Describe the moment when you first knew that this would be your next project.

 

Kibuishi: [Graphix editorial director] David [Saylor] came to me and asked me. I was kind of surprised, like anyone else would’ve been–“I’m the cartoon guy. Why would you want me to do it?” He had a poster of one of my “Flight” covers on the wall, and he said that when he looked up at that, he thought, “That’s what we should do.” It was actually really good to know that, because the Chamber of Secrets cover was actually influenced quite a bit by the Flight Volume 3 cover on his wall.

 

I’m also a writer. I actually have people do this kind of [illustration] work for my books. [Laughs.] I tell them, “Can you make those backgrounds look better?” I’m the guy who draws less and less on my own books.

 

Bookish: Which project are you returning to now that these covers are finished?

Kibuishi: “Amulet”–that’s my full-time job. I believe a lot in focusing on just a few things. When David came to me to do [Harry Potter], I initially thought, “I don’t know about that.” For one, that’s a lot of responsibility, and I have my own series to focus on. It took a while for me to realize it would make sense for me to try it. Once I decided that, I gave it my all while bidding for it. I showed them my sample images and said, “I’m going to take a very different approach because I’m an author, and I think I can empathize with J.K. Rowling a little more than the designers can. I know what she deals with when she’s sitting in her room, and I know what she deals with when she goes to the schools–I do all those same things.” I’m in a unique position to be able to empathize with how I want to see my series reinterpreted.

Bookish: What are you most excited about while working on the new “Amulet” volume?

Kibuishi: One of the things I’ve done is set up a mythology that allows me to be very flexible. Every time I do a book, I feel like I’m on a new adventure. I kind of like not knowing some things. I trust my process enough that I just fall into the story. I let the characters take me somewhere.

Bookish: Do you outline?

Kibuishi: I do outline, but I only use those as signposts that tell me, “You have to go in that direction, you have to be done here,” and then I let the characters do the rest of the work. I’m excited to see what the characters do, because I’m putting them in a really crazy situation.

Bookish: Over the course of your life, what’s the book you’ve most often recommended to people, and why?

Kibuishi: I have recommended Harry Potter a lot. People will ask what my favorite books are; my quick answer is that three books are my favorite: Cannery RowThe Old Man and the Sea and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. That’s my triumvirate; every time I make a book, I’m chasing those three books. I’m trying to replicate the feeling I get from those three books and combine it with all the fun, cartoony stuff.

Bookish: Is there something about those three novels that complement one another?

Kibuishi: They’re very much like graphic novels because of the length; they’re very short. I like writers who write for the memory of the reading experience and not so much for the time that it takes to read it. I think the best writers can create a memory that stays with you for a long time. It doesn’t matter if it’s only one page long or 500 pages long. As long as that memory can hold, you’ve created literature in somebody’s mind.

 

When I draw my books and I know I only have 200 pages to work with and it’s going to be a very short time–I have only a half hour to an hour and a half with somebody–then it has to be about the memory that I create and not the story that I’m writing. The story’s only a tool to create the memory.

 

Bookish: Would you say that with graphic novels, it’s specific pages or images that stick in a reader’s mind?

 

Kibuishi: I encapsulate a moment. I look at the moment and say, “I want you to remember that moment really, really well,” so I will write to make that happen. I think that’s why [kids] like the “Amulet” books, because it holds. For me, as a young reader, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy reading when I started; it was that I didn’t understand a lot of it, so it didn’t hold. Then, when I read books that were clear enough for me–they didn’t necessarily have to be short, just clear enough–the memory held.

 

The Phantom Tollbooth is a fantastic example: The combination of Jules Feiffer’s images and Norton Juster’s writing created really clear images in my brain about the space, and I wanted to revisit it. Chris van Allsburg’s drawings create memories that don’t leave your head. Harry Potter has that, as well: You remember the moments and the spaces and the places.

 

Bookish: When you recommend Harry Potter often, is it in response to a specific request from people, or is it just your go-to?

 

Kibuishi: When I recommend Harry Potter, often it’s to somebody who doesn’t always read. It’s something that will introduce them to a great story. They’re going to read it and say, “Hey, I really enjoy reading!”

There’s more difficult fiction that I would recommend to some [more experienced] readers who want that special book. My wife is like that; she loves Philip Pullman [and "His Dark Materials"]. It’s like Harry Potter, but there’s a different flavor. For some of my friends, Ursula K. Le Guin is the way to go. I try to find the book that would mean so much to that person if they’re that kind of reader. But… I think books like Harry Potter and “Amulet” were made for the kids who didn’t find an interest in [reading]. They will move on to all sorts of wonderful things that we can point them to.

 

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This article originally appeared on Bookish.com

 

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