Joyce Chen is a second-generation Taiwanese-American writer, editor and journalist. Her writings have been published in Rolling Stone, Literary Hub, Narratively, People magazine, and the New York Daily News, among others. She is one of the founding editors of literary arts nonprofit, The Seventh Wave.
It’s been more than a decade since I lived in Cerritos, California, the Los Angeles suburb where I grew up alongside countless other children of diaspora. As we near the holiday season, my mind naturally gravitates toward “home” and missing the particular closeness — and claustrophobia — that I associate with that place and stage of life. I recently returned to Anthony Veasna So’s short story collection, Afterparties, seeking some form of solace and familiarity.
The immigrant narrative has often been oversimplified, commodified and exploited in popular culture. There is no singular "immigrant experience,” and the nuances of each person’s journey make concepts such as success complex to articulate. The lives of subsequent generations can exist in a liminal space between their parents’ country and their own birth nation. Anna Qu’s engrossing debut memoir, Made in China, explores the space where they hover, trying to respect the contradictions of their parents' past but also attempting to forge a new path forward for themselves.
Early on in Wesley Yang’s searing collection of essays, The Souls of Yellow Folk, in a profile piece about chef, TV personality and all-around badass Eddie Huang, the writer tackles the onus of representation head-on: “A model minority is a tractable, one-dimensional simulacrum of a person, stripped of complexity, nuance, danger and sexuality — a person devoid of dramatic interest.”
Doubt drives R.O. Kwon’s intriguing new novel, The Incendiaries, and it is omnipresent from page one: an unreliable narrator, a story imbued with a sense of mystery, and distrust developing between characters as each struggles to hide or reveal their true selves throughout the book. The narrative twists and turns in uncomfortable starts and stops, relying on the reader’s own skepticism to fill in the blanks where the narrator does not — fitting, given that the premise of the story is rooted in religion and redemption.
Clarissa Goenawan’s haunting debut novel, Rainbirds, has been likened to Haruki Murakami’s earlier work, and the comparisons are apt —for more layered reasons than might initially appear. For instance, yes, there are elements that are trademarks of Murakami’s novels —jazz music, a lone male protagonist, a whodunnit mystery, and an eccentric young woman to tie it all together —but much like Murakami’s own multi-faceted characters, Goenawan’s are hardly stand-ins for someone else’s stories.
I once wrote in a group email to several women — some friends and some strangers — that I was intrigued by air plants, those trendy little green plants that have become synonymous with sun-drenched, airy reading nooks and whimsical Instagram posts: