Caroline Rody

 

On her book The Interethnic Imagination: Roots and Passages in Contemporary Asian American Fiction

Cover Interview of March 14, 2011

In a nutshell

The Interethnic Imagination raises to view an important shift in the contemporary literature Americans have been reading.  It claims that since the last quarter of the twentieth century, in the wake of all that’s changing in local and global cultures, in patterns of migration, communication, and interaction among peoples from all parts of the world, ethnic American literature is becoming interethnic literature.  That is to say, literatures deeply rooted in one or another people’s histories and traditions show a growing urge to encounter the lives of others, to enter and explore the dynamic arena of the American multiculture.

Asian American fiction—a booming, enormously inventive body of work—is at the center of this book, as case study and as avatar of the historic turn to the interethnic across the spectrum of ethnic American literatures.

In three main chapters, I focus on particularly rich 1990s novels:  Chang-rae Lee’s dark rendering of a conflicted Korean American New York City spy, Native Speaker; Gish Jen’s hilarious treatment of growing up Chinese American in a Jewish New York suburb, Mona in the Promised Land; and Karen Tei Yamashita’s magical realist epic of mass migration from Asia and Latin America to Los Angeles, Tropic of Orange.  These chapters closely read writers’ experimentation with literary characters, narrative voices, plots, structures, social visions, and cross-ethnic literary borrowing to tell new kinds of American stories.

Many other recent Asian American texts enter the discussion—some in shorter “interchapters” that take up special in-between topics in cross-ethnic literary encounter: African American presences in contemporary Asian American texts, the cross-ethnic writing of Jewishness, and the history of mixed-race Asian American literary characters.