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June 7th, 2019

American Born Chinese

In the spirit of posting something whenever you read it (shoutout to [personal profile] rachelmanija), here's something about American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang. I bought it at the Eric Carle Museum after visiting the exhibition on graphic novels.

I really like the art style, which is simple but expressive. The story is a braided narrative, with the central story being that of Jin, a Chinese American in a town/school with very few Asian Americans. Weaving under and over that story is a Christian-inflected retelling of the story of the Monkey King from Journey to the West and a "comedy" of a seemingly White American boy who's visited by his grotesque racist stereotype Chinese cousin "Chin Kee." Those two strands comment on the main strand, highlighting issues the issues Jin is dealing with.

That structure was clever--but I preferred the Monkey King retelling to the main story. The main story is okay--it's sharply portrayed and has some funny moments (like when the hero uses public bathroom dispenser soap as an emergency substitute for deodorant and ends up depositing bubbles on the shoulder of the girl he's invited to a movie)--but I felt like it walked a familiar path without adding much that was new and without the hero himself gaining much insight. The racist atmosphere in his town/school makes him want to distance himself from his Chinese heritage so he can fit in. As a result he's hurtful to the other Asian American students in his class, and the structure of the story means his change of heart ends up seeming like an externally imposed enlightenment rather than something genuinely earned and learned.

The fact that I liked the Monkey King portion of the story leads me to believe that I'd enjoy Gene Luen Yang's Boxers and Saints, a two-volume story of the Boxer Rebellion, more. I've got it on my to-read list.



This entry was originally posted at https://asakiyume.dreamwidth.org/913032.html. Comments are welcome at either location.

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