Editor’s Asian Canadian Picks of the Month8 min read

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It’s Christmas time!  With the holiday seasons comes some down time for reading and contemplation.  Here’s my chance to share with you my reading list for the past few months. It’s been a very busy time, with the end of one festival and the planning for yet another, but thankfully there’s always time to read some good books.  Thank you to the many publishers and writers who send their works and recommendations to me.   Keep them coming.   I may not get to everything this month, but will  the next, or the one after that.  Eventually I will get to all them.   Here is my list for this month’s Editor’s Asian Canadian Picks of the Month.

Asian Canadian Studies Reader

The Asian Canadian Studies Reader edited by Roland Sintos Coloma and Gordon Pon (University of Toronto Press, 2017).  Probably one of the most important texts to come out of Asian Canadian Studies, this title compiles some essential writings by some of the leading scholars in the field.   The volume is organized into four main themes: ethnic, intersectional, comparative, and transnational encounters.   By capturing the rich diversity within Asian Canadian communities, the book tries to disrupt the stereotype that Asians in North America are the “immigrants,” newcomers, and model minorities. I am impressed with Asian Canadian Studies Reader is the first interdisciplinary collection of essays intended for a college audience that can used to use better understand our diversity as a country and a people.

The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei

The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei (House of Anansi, 2017).  I remember reading passages of this book to Jim Wong-Chu when he was in the hospital, and I can tell that he approved of the story.   Right from the opening chapter “The Truth Between Black and White” unravels a deliriously compelling plot: Detective Kwan Chun-dok in a comatose solving a crime with his underling Sonny by his bedside, interpreting signals of his mentor through an oscilloscope as the interrogation plays out in the hospital room between family members suspected of committing murder.   A beep indicating ‘yes’; a ding signalling a ‘no.’   It’s a thriller in the mould of a Johnny To classic-noir genre.  It’s a story that Jim would have written himself. 

Divided into six sections told in reverse chronological order, each covering an important case in Kwan Chun-dok’s career and takes place at a pivotal moment in Hong Kong history, the book depicts the Hong Kong detective’s rises from constable to senior inspector over the span of several decades, from the 1960s to the present day, and becomes a legend in the force, nicknamed “the Eye of Heaven.”    While author Chan Ho-Kei may be a new voice to us North America, he is already well-established in Hong Kong and Asia.   Chan’s first novel, The Man Who Sold the World, won the biggest mystery prize in the Chinese-speaking world in 2011.  In telling the stories of Kwan’s rise through the Hong Kong police force, a career spanning fifty years of the territory’s history, Chan’s book also documents the city’s historical turning points including the 1967 riots, the creation of the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption), the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989; as well as the Handover in 1997.   This book is a turning point in Hong Kong literary works entering North America.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu (Saga Press, 2016).  Whenever a story can make me cry,  I know it’s worth telling. Ken Liu is known more as a translator than an author, but his most recent selection of science fiction and fantasy stories in the The Paper Menagerie establishes Liu as a rising force in the literary world.  This is truly an amazing collection that features Liu’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).   This is a book that’s worth a close reading.

The Best Canadian Poetry

The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry, edited by Anita Lahay and Molly Peacock (Tightrope Books, 2017) in English takes the pulse of the last decade of Canadian poetry with 90 poems that the editors Anita Lahay and Molly Peacock considers some of the very best.  I’m pleased to see that with poems chosen from the first nine volumes of this landmark series, this special tenth-anniversary edition includes some Asian Canadian authors Sally Ito, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Evelyn Lau, Hao Nguyen, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, Priscilla Uppal, and Changming Yuan.  Of course, with the range of iconic poets including Michael Ondaatje, Anne Carson, George Elliott Clarke, and P.K. Page, in addition to an anthology that has an index for readers, notes from the poets, an illuminating analysis of Canadian poetics, this is a book that needs to belongs on your bookshelf.

The Conjoined

The Conjoined: A Novel by Jen Sookfong Lee (ECW Press, 2016)   I read this book with much anticipation – it’s Jen Sookfong Lee’s third novel, and her writing has maturity that cuts through a difficult story that has traces of her own life in it.  An unforgettable first scene sets the stage for a riveting who-done-it mystery: Jessica Campbell is cleaning her mother’s belongings only to discover two dead girls curled into the bottom of the chest freezers.  They were foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng ― teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown.   As Jessica retraces the lives of these two teenagers, we learn more about her own life along with that of Casey, Jamie, and their immigrant Chinese parents, inevitably revealing the dark past of Doona, whom she had grown up only to know of as the perfect mother.   Weaving between present and past, the book is as much a psychological thriller as a biography of the lives of Vancouver’s Eastside residents.

Becoming Sui Sin Far

Becoming Sui Sin Far by Mary Chapman (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016).  Edith Eaton is sometimes considered an early precursor of “Asian” writers in North America.  When her 1912 story collection, Mrs. Spring Fragrance, was rescued from obscurity in the 1990s, scholars were quick to celebrate Sui Sin Far as a pioneering chronicler of Asian American Chinatowns.   Born in England to a Chinese mother and a British father, and raised in Montreal, Edith Eaton is now well regarded as a transnational writer whose works are being re-examined across new literary and intellectual inquiries.

In Becoming Sui Sin Far, University of British Columbia English literary critic Mary Chapman collects and contextualizes seventy of Eaton’s earliest works, most of which have not been republished since they first appeared in turn-of-the-century periodicals, revealing Eaton’s diverse styles and from a variety of perspectives, documenting Eaton’s early career as a short story writer, journalist, ethnographer, political commentator, and travel writer.  Chapman’s introduction in the book provides a deeper analysis of Eaton’s transnational career, offering insightful new scholarship in Canadian, American, Asian North American, and ethnic literary studies.

Afterness: Literature From the New Transnational Asia

Afterness: Literature from the New Transnational Asia, edited by Rebekah Chan, Gregg Schroeder, Jenn Chan Lyman, Quenntis Ashby, Amanda Webster. (After-Party Press, 2016).  This is a somewhat bittersweet showcase of the work of sixty-five graduates of the Hong Kong City University MFA Creative Writing program from 2010 to 2016.  Of course, the program was shut down in 2015 suddenly despite a CityU MFA student-led protest from the international writing community, including Canada’s own Madeleine Thien. The movement couldn’t save the program, but it wasn’t without effort and articulation.  In the end, it is this anthology of poetry, fiction, memoir, and essays that is one of the program’s everlasting legacy.

Disappearing Moon Cafe

Disappearing Moon Cafe by SKY Lee (NeWest Press, 2017).   Since it won the Vancouver Book Award in 1990, Disappearing Moon Cafe has become a Canadian classic though ironically no new copies have been sold in bookstores for a while.  Its print run simply ran out.   One of my favourite novels, I wanted to renew the importance of this classic piece of literature that also disappeared over the years as its published Douglas & McIntyre closed for business by reviewing here almost three decades after its appeared in the literary world.  University students are no longer limited to using second-hand copies as this novel has recently been picked up and published by NeWest Press.   The novel was ahead of its times in many ways, touching on sexual and cultural identities, about First Nations-Chinese intermarriage, and Chinatown’s unsolved cold cases.   It’s a book that’s worth re-reading for at least a second time.

Do you have a recommendation or a title you want to be reviewed by the editors?   Please send your requests to Allan Cho, Editor-in-Chief of Ricepaper Magazine.  

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