Awesome Francophile Korean American Fiction in the New Yorker

June 22, 2007

Not only does it have an excerpt from Junot Diaz's new novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but it has an amazing debut story by Korean American writer David Hoon Kim about a Japanese adoptee who was raised in Denmark and is living in Paris, entitled Sweetheart Sorrow.

I had met Fumiko almost two years earlier, in the Métro. She was not the first to mistake me for one of her countrymen. To anyone seeing me walking around in Paris, I probably look about as Scandinavian as the Emperor Hirohito, even if the only thing I am able to say in Japanese is "I don’t speak Japanese.” I am unable to pronounce the name of the city where I was born.

“But you look so Japanese,” an exasperated Fumiko told me that day, her French much more foreign-sounding than mine. Words, in her mouth, always seemed to have one syllable too many. We stood facing each other, surrounded by commuters, in the stale air of the subway car.

“Really.” I let the sarcasm settle in. “I had no idea.”

When I told her where I was from, she screamed. Several people looked at us. “De-eh-enmark? Wouah!” A pause. “So you speak”—another pause—“Danish?” She even managed to give “Danish” an extra syllable.


Fumiko was from a small town in northern Japan; she was auditing courses at the École des Beaux-Arts. She smoked Marlboro Lights, which she pronounced Maru-boru Right. She owned an Aiwa mini disk player, which, she told me, used a special lithium-ion battery. The friendlier she became, the more I found her friendliness irritating, presumptuous. I had met people like her before, Asians who thought I had something in common with them. In Denmark, I had grown so used to looking different from everyone around me that I was able to forget what I looked like. In France, I was made aware, all over again, of my appearance: from French students frowning over my un-French, un-Japanese name to panhandlers in the street who shouted “Konnichiwa!” when I walked past, no doubt the only Japanese word they knew.

I found the investigation of language and love and race to be fascinating -- partly because these identity issues were transposed into a European setting. Anyway, I highly recomend a read and then checking out the Q&A with Kim afterwards.

Kim talks about his decisions to set his story in France -- where he lived for a long time:

I didn’t feel I could compete with native French-speakers writing about their own people; just as, in English, there were writers, of Asian descent or not, writing about the U.S. much better than I ever could. At the same time, I wanted to be true to myself as a writer. I’ve always felt that it doesn’t matter what you write about; what matters is how you write about it.

I am often thinking (and writing) about this issue between the quality of the writing and the theme. I agree -- at the end of the day -- it is HOW YOU WRITE but I think it is important for Asian American writers to really make an effort to push outside of the box and write about characters not heard of before, like Kim's Japanese-Danish Blatand.




The President of the constitutional convention, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, former President of the Republic of France (1974-1981) haspresented the project in a book of 378 pages including 68 pages of introduction, 274 pages of constitutional text and 36 pages of appendixes. To be enforceable, the project has to be ratified by each of the 25 nations forming the European Union.--------------------valrossieNew York Drug Treatment
YES - what a great story!
I love articles like this because it shows that there are talented asian/oriental writers that write well. I liked "China Boy" by Gus Lee. It dealt with the hardships of a young Chinese boy growing up in a white society within a poor black community and having a mentor at the YMCA.
I really enjoyed the story. Needless to say, I found it very moving. And now I'm excited for his future work.