Selected East Asian Books For Young Adults
Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution. Jiang, Ji-Ji. 285 pp. Harper Collins, 1997, ISBN 0-06-027585-5.
Ji-Ji Jhang, at the age of twelve, got a firsthand taste of the destruction wrought by Mao’s Cultural Revolution when her "landlord" ancestry cost her the opportunity to join the People’s Liberation Army dancing troupe which she badly wanted to join. A horrified young girl is asked to betray her parents, but ends up joining the revolution a gainst the "fourolds" (old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits) and is caught up in the national hysteria. As the author puts it, "we were all brainwashed" and the conflict between political and family expectations is well portrayed.
The Ch’i-lin Purse: A Collection of Ancient Chinese Stories. Fang, Linda, Reteller. 127pp. Farrar, 1995, ISBN 0-374-31241-9.
This set of nine short stories from China is a valuable resource for oral as well as independent reading. Chinese opera, legends, and a novel from the Ming Dynasty are included along with a useful preface and set of source notes. A particularly good example of wit triumphant is contained in the opera, "The Royal Bridegroom" when the sto ry is recounted of a young woman raised as a boy to avoid her father’s anger at the birth of a daughter and the complications that arise when he is "betrothed". Delicate artwork adds dimension and interest to this collection of writings.
Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China. Evans, Richard. 339pp. Viking, 1994, ISBN 0670848166.
Evans, former British ambassador to China has produced a noteworthy biography of Den Xiaoping, the most significant political leader in the post-Mao era. It is a blue-print for comprehending the complexities of modern day China. Deng, an original m ember of Mao’s revolutionary cadre, survived civil strife, the Japanese invasion, the Long March, and the Cultural Revolution. He is renowned as the architect of China’s economic development program and is credited for introducing a radically refashioned China to the world. The book is highly recommended for Asian studies collections.
Tracing it Home. Pan, Lynn. 229pp. Kodansha, 1993 ISBN 1568360096
Shanghai before the cultural revolution is captured in a poignant account of three generations of Pan’s family starting with her powerful and wealthy grandfather in prerevolutionary Shanghai through her father’s exile in Hong Kong and Malaysia to Pan’ s years of weaving together the lives and stories of these men and their wives, concubines, sisters, servants and sons. She shows the clash between old and new ways, the effects of Communism, the brutality of the Cultural Revolution, and paints a vivid po rtrait of the decadent and corrupt Shanghai during the Japanese occupation. Pan is a natural storyteller with a worthwhile tale to tell.
American Dragons: Twenty-five Asian American Voices. Yep, Laurence, Editor. 237 pp. Harper Collins, 1993, ISBN 0-06-021495-3.
This collection of short stories, poems and other selections written by a cross section of Asian Americans with roots in China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Thailand covers issues of interest to adolescents such as identity, family relationships, generational and cultural conflicts, and love. Darrell Lum’s short story about a boy’s estrangement from his Chinese heritage is symbolized by his awkwardness in using chopsticks when he returns after a long absence for his aunt’s funeral. Some of the m ost moving stories concern Japanese Americans from the World War II era about the shame and injustice felt by people peersecuted for their ancestry. As Yep states in his Preface, "When Asians came to America, they brought their inner dragons with them; a nd these dragons left their tracks".
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He’s Leaving Home: My Young Son Becomes a Zen Monk. Miura,Kiyohiro.102pp. Tuttle, 1996, ISBN 0804820600.
This award-winning novel, translated from the Japanese, is the story of a father recalling the impact of his restless son’s departure from home. Kimura, the narrator, discovers a decrepit Zen temple and starts attending seated meditation sessions call ed zazen, on the weekends, taking along Ryota, his young son. He is quite taken by surprise when eight-year-old Ryota tells him he wants to become a monk. Kimura speaks to Gukai, the priest, an independent woman of advanced years, who takes charge of Ryto a’s future. Rytoa leaves his parents to cope with an irrevocable change in their lives. This tale illuminates certain aspects of the Zen tradition along with the other types of sacrifices that devotion to spiritual matters requires.
One Bird. Mori, Kyoko. 242 pp. Holt, 1995, ISBN 0-8050-2983-4.
This book’s focus is on a teenage girl’s struggles to maintain psychic equilibrium after a wrenching separation from her mother who left an unhappy mariage and retuned to her native village. Forbidden by her father and paternal grandmother to contra ct her mother, fifteen-year-old Megumi, feels abandoned and undergoes and seriously questions her belief in God. One day she finds a wounded bird which she takes to a young vetrinarian who offers her a job as his assistant which she accepts. The novel int egrates elements of Japanese culture and demonstrates that someone else’s teenage years may seem different on the other side of the planet, but in reality are not much different.
The Bonsai Workshop. Gustafson, Herb L. 208pp, Sterling, 1994, ISBN 0-8069-0556-5.
Teenagers interested in this delicate art will find this book is designed for beginning and intermediate bonsai enthusiasts. It outlines in straight forward fashion the basics of care, creation and display of these miniature trees. The care varies thr oughout the four seasons and even by regions. Keeping a tree alive is not an easy task for beginners and Gustafson supplies answers to 100 questions concerning bonsai culture in this book which contains 402 color and 68 black-and-white illustrations. A short history of bonsai is also included along with advice on pruning, potting, training, creating and displaying them.
The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto. Iyer, Pico. 352pp. Knopf, 1991, ISBN 0-679-40308-6.
British-born and Harvard educated, Iyer arrives in Japan in 1987 with no organized plans, contacts, or living arrangements. This modern-day Thoreau’s year-long sojourn takes the reader to Kyoto absorbing sights, sounds, and philosophies of the East. I yer meets and falls in love with a Japanese wife torn between traditional fealty to family and the yearning to be free. A friendship evolves in and around oriental scenery and the wife’s fascination with all things Western. Communication between them is fractured; especially, about ceremonies and elebrations. The story is told with considerable sensitivity to people and places.
Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei. Mura, David. 384pp. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991, ISBN 0-87113-431-4.
A young poet and third-generation Japanese American who feels deeply rooted in the United States, yet grows up knowing little of his heritage, is awarded an artist’s exchange fellowship. He lives in Tokyo for a year and struggles with the language and feels the joy of being part of the "visual majority" for the first time. His memoir provides good descriptions of Japanese life: stylish crowds, bright streets and cramped interiors. Mur also provides perceptions about Japanese etiquette and attitude and discovers that issues of assimilation and racism, his relationship with his white wife, and a dark raging sexuality are unresolved issues in his life. This is an eloquent account and a carthasis that illuminates a young man’s coming of age in his native culture.
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Still Life with Rice. Lee, Helle. 320 pp. Scribner, 1996, ISBN 0684802708
A biography that reads like a novel, the author portrays the amazing life of her Korean grandmother who survives war, poverty, illness and social repression before emigrating to Los Angeles. Lee’s maternal grandmother, born in 1912 into a well-to-do merchant family, has a traditional upbringing and is married to a charming feckless husband chosen for her. Baek finds her life disrupted by political events, and to escape Japanese oppression, the family joins other Korean refugees in China where she prospers as a dealer in sesame oil and opium. When 36 years of Japanese occupation ends, Baek returns home only to witness the outbreak of civil war. Her grandmother’s family faces ma ny hardships, the family members are reunited, and Baek uses her skills as a healer to restore some measure of financial security before emigrating to the United States.
The Long Season of Rain. Kim, Helen. 275pp. Holt, 1996, ISBN 0-8050-4758-1.
This novel, set in the 1960s during Changma, the rainy season which always brings damage, is a first-person account of a view of societal restrictions on an eleven-year-old named Junehee. This daughter observes her mother trapped in a loveless marriag e who stays only for her four daughters’ sakes, faces a future with no security without a son to protect her. The temporary presence of a boy orphaned by a Changma mudslide sets off a chain of events. Junehee learns that her father has other women and is an active partisan for her mother, who comes right out and asks her father where he goes at night Eventually her father becomes more involved in family life, although her mother’s anguish is irrevocable. A great deal of cultural information is conveyed as the novel demonstrates the powerful effect adults have on the world of their children.
Year of Impossible Good-byes. Choi, Sook Nyul. 171 pp. Houghton, 1991, ISBN 0-395-57419-6.
This novel portrays the war-ravaged world of a young girl, and while it does not take the reader to the front lines, it gives a behind the scenes look at what war does to the lives of children. Sookan, the protagonist, glimpses a proud past through her grandfather, who keeps the old Korean ways, while her mother runs a factory that produces knitted socks for the Japanese army. Her father and brothers are away fighting in the resistance movement and when World War II ends the rejoicing proves premature: the Russians are as oppressive as the Japanese. Sookan and her seven-year-old brother flee their northern Korean village, head south to the safety of the 38th parallel, are separated fro m their mother and ultimately reunited. There are vivid, poignant moments when the children bath their dying grandfather’s feet and discover his toenails have been pulled out under torture. They are mortified as small Korean children when they are forc ed to urinate at their desks because they cannot break from reciting Japanese propaganda. The author’s love for family and homeland shines through this moving account.
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This bibliography is compiled by Mary Miller.