Last year in my Asian American Literature course I taught several books: Ung's memoir First They Killed My Father, The Woman Warrior, and among others, Chang Rae Lee's Native Speaker. I have also used this as one of the optional novels in my Freshman Composition courses alongside On the Road and The Color Purple. Lee's first novel is perhaps the most poignant and accurate depiction of the educated middle-class Korean American (married to a Caucasian woman), intelligent by anyone's standards and yet still very much the perpetual foreigner. Henry Park, the novel's protagonist, and the Korean American politician he is assigned to follow, are both near-tragic characters in my opinion--and the novel is a perfect illustration of what I call linguistic realism, that tradition of mythic blending in literature, the struggle to speak, to be heard, to be accepted, to find one's place through language.
The students liked the novel. It is challenging in parts, but there is a payoff at the end. Are there comparable novels you would suggest for freshmen or sophomores? What are some of your favorite noels and why? I am particularly interested in those which explore language in realistic settings. I have used a lot of the standards: Chu's "Eat a Bowl of Tea" and Yamamoto's "Wilshire Bus" and things like that, but like any educator I would like to explore new books. Should I read Gish Jen? To what extent does Mona in the Promised Land deal with this? David Wong Louie? Paisley Rekdal?
I know this is supposed to be a poetry and activism blog, but what can you do. I'm trying to write in this thing at least every other day, and if I self-edited too much I would never get anything done. Oh yeah...for those of you who have read Native Speaker, what was your reaction to Aloft? Maybe in addition to Bhanu Kapil's book of poems, I will add A Gesture Life to my list of books to read.