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review 2018-03-14 19:18
The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir - Kao Kalia Yang

This is an interesting memoir by a Hmong-American writer, about the experiences of a community that is opaque to many Americans. The Hmong are an ethnic minority who moved from China to Laos centuries ago; the Chinese outlawing their written language is apparently the reason they lack one even today. Many Hmong assisted the Americans in the Vietnam War, in which about a third of their population died; another third was killed in the persecution after the American army’s departure. The author’s parents and extended family, like many others, fled into the jungles of Laos and later to a refugee camp in Thailand, where they lived for several years before relocating to Minnesota.

Though a memoir, this book is more about the author’s family than about Kao Kalia Yang herself. It begins by detailing her family’s travails in Laos and Thailand before her birth in the refugee camp, and the bulk of the book focuses on the camp and the family’s immigration to America when she was seven. It goes on to describe the difficulties of their adjustment, for her (being too shy to speak English in school even once she learned it), but mostly for the family: part of the extended family winds up in another state; money is tight, and her parents are forced to take exhausting night shifts at a factory to support the family, while Yang and her older sister are responsible for caring for their younger siblings and sometimes serving as interpreters for their parents. There is little sense of the author’s life after elementary school, though; while she is a student at Carlton College by the end (and later went on to Columbia University), the later chapters focus exclusively on the last years of her grandmother’s life and the grandmother’s death and elaborate funeral. I would have liked to see more of the author’s life and how she has related to Americans and American culture – her educational choices indicate that she has her own stories to tell – but the focus of the book does make clear how extremely family-oriented both she and her community are.

It is an incredible story, and especially given that the Yangs’ experiences were evidently common among the Hmong after the Vietnam War, it’s an important one to tell for the sake of awareness. The writing is fairly good, though it doesn’t always flow in the clearest way. Here’s a sample:

“My mother and father told us not to look at the Americans. If we saw them, they would see us. For the first year and a half, we wanted to be invisible. Everywhere we went beyond the McDonough Housing Project, we were looked at, and we felt exposed. We were dealing with a widespread realization that all Hmong people must do one of two things to survive in America: grow up or grow old. In the case of the noticeably young, the decision was made for us. For those who were older, the case was also easy to figure. Those marred by the war, impaired by the years of fighting, social security and disability were options. [sic] For my mother and father, already adults who had waited on life long before it was their time, the government stepped in and told them: the welfare clock was ticking. She was twenty-five. He was twenty-eight. They knew they wanted a chance to work, but they did not know how to keep that chance safe, so on the streets, before the slanted brows of mostly white men, they held us close for security.”

The gist of the passage makes sense: the family feels insecure, they don’t want to attract attention, and the parents are under pressure to find work. But the notion that there is pressure on “all Hmong people” to “grow up or grow old,” and how this is meant to apply to the author’s parents, is unclear to me even after taking the time to re-read it carefully. And perhaps because of the author’s cultural and linguistic background, she has a distinct way of expressing ideas that may not make a lot of sense to American readers if read quickly or with less than full attention.

Overall then, I found this memoir worthwhile, mostly for the opportunity to learn more about a community that was unfamiliar to me. However, it’s not the first one I would recommend for literary reading.

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text 2017-12-17 20:14
Square 11: Donghzi Festival
American Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang

Square 11 Donghzi Festival

Book: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Task: Favorite Chinese Food (IG pic here)


First, I have to say that Chinese food is one of my favorite comfort foods and my preferred fast food. Second, I prefer British Chinese food over American Chinese food because the British version is not nearly as greasy as the US version and the food is more flavorful. So in the picture I linked to, there is a Crabmeat and Sweetcorn soup (egg flower based soup) that is great on a chilly night to warm you up. The noodle dish is Singapore Fried Noodles; our local makes it vegetarian with stir-fry veg, tofu, and scrambled eggs. Sometimes I add a little smoked Tabasco sauce, but mostly just eat it as is. Finally, there is some prawn curry that fills you up.

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review 2017-12-15 22:45
Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
American Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang

A quick read for older MG and YA readers. I picked this up from the library for the Donghzi Festival square.


The MC, Jin Wang, just wants to fit in. That was easy to do when living in San Francisco and Asian-American, not so easily done when your parents move you to a white suburban area during the middle school years and you are cast from the outset as "Other". To make matters worse, you fall for a pretty white girl who doesn't notice you are alive. So by the time you are in high school, so you invent a persona (Danny) and try to hide Jin Wang the person behind Danny. The few friends you have, both Asian-Americans as well and just as uncool, are not surprised but disappointed about your choices of late. Those friends may have come from an unlikely source, but for the sake of spoilers, I am not saying where those friends came from. Eventually, with the friends' help the persona of Danny goes away and Jin Wang finally accepts himself. The story was great but the art work so too basic, too amateurish to be interesting. I would read more from this author but I would like to see better art work next time.

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review 2017-11-08 00:00
The Black Tides of Heaven
The Black Tides of Heaven - JY Yang Man, I'm pissed. Couple of years ago, I also envisioned a book where children are essentially genderless until they chose at a certain age, and I was like "that'd be cool! So cool! I'm a genius." I'm not super pissed particularly because I feel robbed (well.) but because it was done super well in this book and probably better than I ever could've. So... goddamnit.

I haven't had a whole lot of interaction with silkpunk, being that a lot of it tends to be written by people who have a fascination with "Asian culture" but not a whole lot of insight into it. [b:The Grace of Kings|18952341|The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty, #1)|Ken Liu|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1403024981s/18952341.jpg|26965646] wasn't... horrible, but I didn't hugely enjoy it, and its gender politics was so irritating that I wasn't tempted to look twice as its sequel until someone told me it got better.

But I never had to worry about this book, which is simply lovely. I love its fantasy, which, interestingly enough, reminded me a lot of Pierce's Circle of Magic series, though that isn't to detract from its own originality. I love the politics in it, the machinations, and I kind of like that everyone hates their mother, who is pretty heartless. Always nice to read books that don't treat blood relatives as obligatory devotion! I read most of this in a day and I never felt like it went too quickly or it dragged. It packed a perfect punch, told a well paced story.

Nitpickiness? Not really a complaint - I was kind of hoping Akeha would be nonbinary, but the whole thing regarding gender is done so well I didn't end the book with it hanging over my head or anything. Again, it's not even a complaint, it was just something I was hoping would happen!

Overall a book I appreciate and adore in a multitude of ways, and hoping it comes up in awards next year because I looooved it.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-08 03:00
The Tensorate novellas - JY Yang
The Black Tides of Heaven - JY Yang
The Red Threads of Fortune (The Tensorate Series) - JY Yang

It's not often I pre-order stuff but I made an exception for this pair of novellas, The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, by JY Yang. I've liked this writer's short fiction so I was interested to see what a slightly longer format would provide and wasn't disappointed, though I liked the first of the two novellas slightly more. The covers look great too, which makes the fact they're ebooks a little frustrating!


Both novellas are set in the world of the Tensorate, which is a place where people can manipulate energy to do all sorts of things (known as the Slack) and which is ruled by the mother of our two main characters. She's a distinctly ruthless individual, for example giving birth to Akeha and Mokoya in order to give them to the temple which had provided her with support during an attempted rebellion, in 'payment' for help received. After that, in The Black Tides of Heaven, she shows minimal interest in their welfare until Mokoya begins to demonstrate prophetic powers and the rest of this novella is the aftermath of that dynamic.


The Red Tides of Fortune is set a few years after the end of the previous novella, with Mokoya struggling to come to terms with the death of her daughter - despite her prophetic powers, she had been unable to see that incident coming and has now lost those powers, as well as being significantly physically affected by the same incident. Akeha and others have joined a would-be rebellion against The Way Things Are and Mokoya is also hunting a naga which threatens to destroy the city where her twin brother is currently living. 


Anyway, the world-building is something I liked very much about both these, including the use of gender terms - this is a world where people declare they are male or female when they feel certain about it, using they/them until that point. In the second novella, Mokoya spends some time trying to figure out her relationship with the power she thought she'd lost and also testing the boundaries of what she can do with the Slack. All in all, I enjoyed them and would very much like to read more set in this universe. 

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