Must-Read of The Week: “The Story Hour” by Thrity Umrigar

 

Looking for a good read? We have just the thing. Find out what page-turner you should pick up with our Must-Reads of The Week! 

 


Acclaimed author Thrity Umrigar tells the story of an unlikely friendship in her latest novel, The Story Hour. When Lakshmi, an Indian immigrant in a loveless marriage, tries to kill herself, she is required to go see a psychologist as a condition of her release from the hospital. Maggie, an African American psychologist married to an Indian American man, at first tries to help Lakshmi, who is constantly berated by her Indian husband and treated more like an employee than a wife. We, too, as readers suffer from the “poor Lakshmi” syndrome, shaking our heads at the stereotypical arranged marriage of the helpless wife from the countryside, demonizing the cold brute of a husband.

That is, until stories begin to unfold in these unconventional therapy sessions — stories where secrets are revealed. Before we know it, it is Maggie who is in need of saving and the cold brute of a husband for whom we feel sympathy. And ultimately, it is Lakshmi who holds the fate of those she loves in her hands.

 

Details Hardcover, $25.99, umrigar.com.


This Summer’s Guilty Pleasure Must-Read: ‘The Ring & The Crown’

Looking for a good summer read to bring along to the beach? We have just the thing: Filipina American author Melissa de la Cruz, best known for her young adult Blue Blood series, is back with another page-turner.

The Ring & the Crown is touted as a melding of European history and magic, but the book doesn’t focus on magic at all. Rather than a politically-driven fantasy one would expect, the story’s driving force is allll drama, and trust me, there’s a lot of it.

The story shifts between the narratives of four very different girls who lead four very different lives. Marie-Victoria is a sickly princess who wants nothing to do with royalty. Aelwyn is a mage who wishes she were royalty. Ronan is a social-climbing beauty, while Isabelle is willing to do whatever it takes to reclaim her prince.

 

As you can expect, The Ring & the Crown is filled with jealously, betrayal, manipulation and love triangles. Get through the first couple of chapters and you’ll soon find yourself quickly flipping through the pages just to find out who’s sleeping with whom.

So will this make it onto your list of all-time favorite books? We’re not sure. Feminists will be tempted to rip this book apart and there are some plot holes here and there. But should you read this book anyway? You bet. The Ring & the Crown certainly has all the qualifications for a guilty-pleasure read. Besides, it’s summertime. Go ahead and indulge in all the addictive drama. You’ve earned it.

Details Hardcover, $17.99, ringandthecrown.com.

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here

‘PIONEER GIRL’ BY BICH MINH NGUYEN

Story by Susan Soon He Stanton.

Engaging, humorous and unexpectedly suspenseful, Bich Minh Nguyen’s Pioneer Girl is the story of Lee Lien’s literary pilgrimage to uncover a mystery that connects Rose Wilder, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, to Lee’s own family. Lee, the child of Vietnamese immigrants, grew up in the Midwest. Her perpetually dissatisfied widowed mother shuttles Lee, her brother Sam and her grandfather from town to town as they struggle to make a living running generic Asian-themed buffets catering to Americans. A gold pin that Lee’s grandfather received from a woman named Rose in Saigon causes Lee, a frustrated, out-of-work scholar, to speculate that the pin originally belonged to Laura Ingalls Wilder. Lee abandons her mother and their restaurant to embark on a cross-country adventure, discovering secrets hidden within Rose Wilder’s papers. Reappropriating the American classic Little House on the Prairie series to echo Lee’s transient upbringing in the heartland, Nguyen’s striking prose spins a multi-generational tale that investigates the narrative we use to create our family histories. Nguyen speaks with Audrey Magazine about her latest novel.

Q: Can you talk about your inspiration for intersecting the life of a young Vietnamese American woman with the Little House on the Prairie saga?

Bich Minh Nguyen: As a child, I strongly identified with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her family was always looking for a home, a right home, where they wanted to be. In the back of my mind, it resonated with me as an immigrant story. I came to America in 1975, and I think what my family went through in resettling paralleled the Little House on the Prairie books I was reading.

I wanted to create a link between Lee’s family and the Ingalls. Both the Ingalls and the Liens are constantly moving. A phrase used in the Little House books is “itchy wandering foot.” The pioneer spirit is the belief that there’s got to be something better if we just keep moving — we just need to find out what’s beyond those hills, what’s beyond the visible horizon — and that feeling can be intoxicating.

Q: Lee is discriminated against for being an Asian American Wharton scholar. She’s constantly pushed towards ethnic lit. Is that something you’ve come up against while writing this book?

BMN: It can be difficult for writers of color to write about people who are not of their own background, without facing some kind of criticism. There’s a belief held by many people that if you are a person of color, you should only be writing about your own experience. When I began, many people were puzzled why an Asian American would be interested in writing a story involving Little House on the Prairie. The notion was that these books are so iconically American, why would an Asian American be interested? I wanted to question that questioning, to create a narrative of the Rose Wilder stories with the story of the protagonist, Lee.

Q: Lee makes some pretty juicy discoveries about Rose Wilder’s personal life. How much of it is true?

BMN: I took a ton of liberties. However, I did spend a lot of time reading Rose’s journals at the archives. But Lee’s theft of archival materials is made up. It’s not something that I would do myself, but I love imagining it. The Rose Wilder Lane papers in Iowa are cataloged in a fairly messy way. I was surprised there were so many souvenirs and trinkets jumbled together, and the thought crossed my mind, “Boy, you could just take one of these things.” Every once in a while a scholar will find a treasure trove of lost letters. I’ve always loved this idea. You’re an ordinary scholar, and you make an accidental and incredible discovery.

In Rose’s papers, I did find a photograph of a Vietnamese man that she took while in Saigon. The photo struck a chord. I thought, maybe she really did develop friendships there. It was the first connection I could make between something having to do with Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Vietnamese American experience.

 

Q: Your descriptions of the pseudo-Asian buffets in small Midwestern towns are appalling and fascinating. Did you have a lot of experience eating at those buffets growing up?

BMN: I did. And for research purposes, I had to go back. I went to the worst ones, the most grimy and rundown. For years it fascinated me that these restaurants are in the middle of nowhere but are somehow surviving and run by Asian people. They serve corn syrupy fast food. It’s really American food more than Asian.

Q: Lee’s brother, Sam, chooses to move to San Francisco to be around other Asians. You grew up in the Midwest, but you have recently moved to San Francisco. Can you speak more about your motivation to relocate Sam?

BMN: When I wrote Pioneer Girl, I was living in the Midwest. I had no idea that I would ever move to the Bay Area. Part of the Midwestern experience for me is conflicted. When I was growing up there, I always thought, this is where we are, this is our home. However, there’s a longing to see what the coasts are like because all you ever hear is that life is on the coasts, in California or New York, and the middle is just fly-over country. I wanted there to be a character who not only felt that way but did something about it. But it’s not a positive thing Sam does; it’s a selfish thing, and that’s what happens to a lot of Midwesterners who leave. It can feel like you are abandoning something. I wanted to get at that feeling.

Details Hardcover, $26.95, bichminhnguyen.com.

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 10.55.49 AM

 

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You

Story by Ada Tseng. 

Comic artist and illustrator Yumi Sakugawa’s first book tackles the intense feelings that can come with platonic love between best friends. 

Little did Yumi Sakugawa know that when she posted her comic I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You on Tumblr, it’d go viral and gather enough online fanfare for it to be published in print as her debut comic book. Sakugawa, who studied fine arts at UCLA and has had her worked published on websites like The Rumpus, Sadie Magazine and Wonderhowto, penned the story about an adorable one-eyed monster who has met its ideal best friend — but isn’t quite sure if the friend reciprocates the same feelings.

The idea is based on “friend-loves” that Sakugawa has had in the past. For her, they’ve mostly been male friends where the line between platonic and romantic is blurred, but the story, told through ageless, genderless characters, can refer to any type of platonic love. “I don’t want to date you or make out with you,” the monster clarifies in its confessional letter. “Because that would be weird. I just so desperately want you to think that I am this super- awesome person, because I think YOU are a super-awesome person.”

Sakugawa wrote the book as a therapeutic way to sort out her own intense emotions about this unique type of friendship. But once it was out in the blogosphere, she found that readers sometimes interpreted the book’s message differently. While some thought it’d be a cute gift for a best friend, others thought sharing the comic might be the worst way to reject a person who you suspect has more-than-friendly feelings toward you. The book can be a Rorschach test for people’s own views on friendships and relationships; Sakugawa herself welcomes all different interpretations. “Maybe my next book should be a sequel called Friend Zone,” she jokes.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 2.51.21 PM

 

Excerpted from I Think I Am in Friend-Love With You, copyright © 2013 by
Yumi Sakugawa and published by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. 

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

CHINEASY: New Book Makes Learning Chinese Easy

Taipei-born entrepreneur, investor and author ShaoLan Hsueh has written a language book called Chineasy to simplify learning basic Chinese words and phrases.

The book, which will be released next month, aims to help people read Chinese easily by recognizing specific characters through illustrations. After taking a sabbatical from capital investment in London, Hsueh began teaching her British-born children how to read and write in Chinese and realized how difficult it was for them. She created a visual method to help them understand, and has since adopted it into a social project.

“Call me optimistic, but I see the melding of these two cultures, East and West, as being instrumental in creating a more culturally literate world,” Hsueh wrote on her website, describing her goal for the creation of Chineasy. “I also think that the East and West must understand each other in order for global economic growth to be a sustainable future.”

Learning Chinese through Chineasy starts on a building block principle: learning the basic key characters allows the reader to begin combining them to form more complex words. Incorporating the illustrations does more than just serve as a visual kind of mnemonic device –– it allows the reader to become familiar with Chinese culture and art.

Chineasy is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

chineasy1   chineasy2

 

Lunar-New-Year-TableGame-ENG

 

 

 

chineasy3chineasy4

 

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 5.06.57 PM

(Source 1, 2, 3)

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.)

book cover

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.”

‘Boat People': The Horror Stories of The Vietnam Exodus

Story by Ethel Navales 

When I began reading Boat People: Personal Stories from the Vietnamese Exodus, I had no idea what was in store for me. I didn’t expect to find each page more difficult to digest than the one before it. I didn’t expect that I would need to pull away for moments just to process what I had read. I certainly didn’t expect to be on the verge of tears, but that’s exactly what happened.

In riveting detail, Boat People brings together the heartbreaking stories of those who survived one of the largest mass exoduses in history — an exodus which had more than a million Vietnamese citizens fleeing their homeland after the Vietnam War. The book’s editor, Carina Hoang, was only 16 when she took part in this journey in 1979. Despite previous hardships — including her father being taken away for 14 years as a political prisoner, her house being confiscated, and nearly unbearable poverty — nothing could have prepared her for the difficulties that were to come as a refugee. “I was not aware of the risk involved,” says Hoang. “I did not realize that once I [stepped] foot on the boat, my chance of survival was very slim — it was something like 10 percent.”

Hoang’s account of her own experiences proves to be just as horrifying as the other stories in Boat People. “There were 373 people on board. It was so crowded that most of us sat with knees to our chins for nearly seven days,” she says. “We were tossed about by a violent storm; we threw up all over each other, and sat with the vomit and the stench for the rest of the trip.” As difficult as this may seem, the hardships of the journey were far from over. Hoang and the others on her boat were attacked by pirates, faced starvation and dehydration, and were quickly overcome with disease. “There were times when I didn’t think we would make it,” recalls Hoang. “It was God’s will that we lived while hundreds died and were buried in the jungle.”

Now, 34 years later, Hoang has dedicated herself to telling her story, as well as the stories of the other survivors. “My main motivation,” Hoang explains, “is to help my daughter, my nieces and my nephews know about their heritage and to understand why and how their parents fled Vietnam.” Of course, a task like this is no easy one. After months of searching and interviewing, Hoang and her co-editor, Michelle Lam, found many people who resisted the idea of digging up their past. “Not everyone we approached was willing to share his or her stories. Some found it difficult to relive their tragic past,” says Hoang, “especially when we touched the subject of the boat people being brutally and inhumanely attacked by pirates.”

Despite these obstacles, Hoang continued to work on Boat People because she understood how important it was to tell these stories. She points out that although the Vietnam exodus was one of the largest in history, many people do not know the enormity and details of this event. To help heal and educate, Hoang organizes trips back to the refugee camps. “Many families lost their loved ones while in refugee camps,” she says. “It is part of our culture to visit the graves of our loved ones regularly, but more importantly, it’s just hard to grieve as the loved ones died in such a tragic way and the families were unable to give their loved ones a proper burial. In some cases, people just couldn’t let go; thus revisiting the graves of their loved ones gives them a sense of comfort or a form of closure.”

Whether through organized trips, public speaking or Boat People, Hoang continues to fight to give voice to these stories. “I believe that as people are more informed, they will have better judgment about refugees and will hopefully approach the matter with more compassion.”

carina


This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here.