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BOOK REVIEWS


From The Asian Reporter, V15, #11 (March 15, 2005), page 16.

You donít really know me

Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World

Anthology edited and with an introduction by Jessica Hagedorn

Penguin, 2004

Paperback, 573 pages, $18.00

By Josephine Bridges

Charlie Chan Is Dead 2 begins with a simple and extraordinary dedication: "for the writers." The work of 42 writers is included here, half of them women. The eldest of the writers, Josť Garcia Villa, was born in 1908. The youngest, Philip Huang and Ka Vang, were born in 1975. Some of these writers are well known, some have yet to achieve fame. Some began their lives in the United States, others abroad. They trace their roots to the Philippines, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, India, Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Laos. A reader could do worse than spend a rainy season slowly savoring this exhaustive collection.

Elaine H. Kimís preface is packed with little known facts and Asian American history. "For every Asian American with an annual income of $75,000 or more," she writes, "there is another making less than $10,000 a year." She wonders how many people in the United States are aware that Laos is "the most bombed country per capita in the history of warfare."

Jessica Hagedorn, who also edited the 1993 anthology Charlie Chan Is Dead, considers what has changed since the publication of the first edition, and delivers the good news: "One thing is for sure ó there are many more Asian American writers than ever before." Seventy-five percent of the material in this updated edition is new.

The stories themselves span the spectrum from traditional narrative to experimental prose. They are carefully crafted, carefully chosen examples of the breadth and depth of contemporary Asian American fiction. There is so much wonderful writing here that a representative sampling is an absolute impossibility. The best a reviewer can hope for is to quote a few favorites.

Marilyn Chinís "Two Parables" is the shortest work in the collection. The author wraps up the second parable, "Moon," a tale both hilarious and chilling, by explaining that her "intentions are to veer you away from teasing and humiliating little chubby Chinese girls like myself Ö For although we are friendly neighbors, you donít really know me."

In "Mango," Christian Langworthy presents the war in Vietnam from the perspective of a boy who begins by telling the reader, "My brother and I were the sons of my motherís clients," and goes on to describe the transformation of his motherís clients as they undressed "from green to the color of the chameleons that we caught on rocks as they changed from emerald to stone."

Meera Nair explores trespass, repentance, and forgiveness in a marriage come to crisis in "Video." "A womanís love can be measured by how many samosas she urges you to eat, he thought. She did not force any upon him this time."

"Immigration Blues" is a mesmerizing excerpt from Bienvenido Santosí novel The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor. In an awkward conversation with two sisters, a widower muses, "What is wrong is to be dishonest. Earn a living with both hands, not afraid any kind of work. No other way. Everything for convenience, why not? Thatís frankly honest. No pretend. Love comes in the afterwards. When it comes. If it comes."

"A Personal Bibliography" concludes this volume. Readers who want to expand their knowledge of "fiction by Asian and Asian American authors who write in English" will find enough in these eleven pages to keep them busy for years to come.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon