Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reading History Part II: Asian Male and White Female Novels

Reading History Part II: Asian Male and White Female Novels

For the people who are in interracial relationships it is difficult and an almost impossible task to find novels that portray their relationships in an accurate way, especially for those who love reading, it becomes twice as difficult. Although things are a slightly more easier now, and the novels are more varied, that difficulty is there. And what if you're an atypical reader? You want to read more in depth novels rather than cookie cutter 'happily ever after'? In this part I will discuss some novels that are more atypical in nature and that deal with Asian male and white female pairings. I will discuss Marguerite Duras' novel, a rewriting of sorts titled The North China Lover, as well as Han Suyin's 'Till Morning Comes and Susan Choi's Foreign Student and Kate Furnivall's Russian Series (Will be reading Jewel of St Petersburg soon.Unfortunately I haven't been able to discover atypical Japanese male and white female novel. If anyone knows of one, please let me know.) 

My discovery of Marguerite Duras happened five or so years ago when I was at a forum. I remember going to a local bookstore and discovering The North China Lover, which I read and liked. Most I enjoyed was the language and I was puzzled by her descriptions, how one was able to feel emotions without reading about them. The setting also intrigued me, that it happened in Vietnam prior to the wars, a story of a thirteen year old girl falling in love with a twenty seven year old man. (Yes, I know, but back then it was what, 1920s?) While I was reading the novel, all I could feel was love throughout it instead of disgust for the pairing. I felt sad at the way it ended. I really would have wanted to know about the girl's life after her lover. I remember desiring to cry at the end. But the novel definitely falls under what I consider atypical or unusual. 

In December of 2006, I was hanging out with a friend at a local goodwill when I saw Han Suyin's 'Till Morning Comes. I was intrigued by a cover: an Asian male hugging a woman with trees serving as a background. Considering the cost at the time, I made a decision to buy this novel and read it. This is a romance novel but at the same time describes modern history of China. Reading it reminded me a little of the past, of when I was with someone of Chinese descent even if for a month. This novel wasn't like Marguerite Duras' The North China Lover, at least in terms of style, although looking back on it, the two have similarities; parted lovers idea, a foreign marrying a native, (Duras's female character lived in Vietnam practically her whole life so I would think of her as a native of sorts,) but at the same time they're different. Duras focused on a year or a specific season while 'Till Morning Comes focused on 22? years of Chinese history if not more. One negative aspect of 'Till Morning Comes is that the female in my view is portrayed negatively and the book gets bogged with too much history. But still, the love story is atypical because it does portray life after wedding, and the fact that Jen Yong doesn't find anyone after Stephanie to be with is romantic. 

Unfortunately I have no memory of how I found out about Susan Choi's novel. I know that I somehow found it on amazon, possibly through a list or maybe through keywords. When I read the summary I found it to be intriguing. Around March of 2008, a local bookstore sent some coupons for the sale they were having and I called and asked them if they had the book. Much to my surprise they did and few days later I was able to get the novel. This novel, unlike the previous two, focuses on a Korean male and white female pairing. The style is very similar to Marguerite Duras, very careful sentences that one would miss and would have to re-read the novel to catch them and their impact on the senses. Reading this novel takes hard work and a lot of understanding. My first time reading the novel was difficult, first because of the words from the start that were used that I wasn't familiar with. (To this day I still don't know where sternum is.) and I kept having this strange feeling that there is something I missed, and I couldn't figure out what it is. In other words, I wasn't a careful reader to discover its secrets. I tried re-reading it multiple times and finally figured out what I missed; Chang's actions towards Katherine, that he loved her and cared for her. The author never says the emotion and they are pretty difficult to capture and to understand until you pay attention to his actions. For those girls who dated or are with Korean men, (especially born prior to 1990s I believe,) this book will feel familiar to them. 

Kate Furnivall's novel, The Russian Concubine was found entirely by accident. Again I found it on amazon and the title was perculiar, "The Russian Concubine." I asked for this novel as a present for the holidays and took a chance on it and read it. Like others I enjoyed it, and the love scenes between Lydia and Chang Lo were credible. I could also easily relate to Lydia because like her I am 1.5 Generation and felt connection and understanding with her. In some parts this book does bog down a little bit, but still it does contain grime and scenes that do not make it a suitable cookie cutter romance novels. The novel does contain questions that don't get answered right away and part of them get answered in sequel and most might also be answered in prequel (The Jewel of St Peterburg, although like in others more questions will arise as well.) The characters in there are unusual and unforgettable as well. It is also interesting to see how White Russians lived in China and all that.  So this novel again isn't typical but atypical. If one desires, give it a try, perhaps one might enjoy it. I know I did. 

As mentioned, I haven't been successful in finding atypical Japanese male and white female novel. (Wendy Nelson Tokunaga's Love in Translation is pretty predictable and too much of a chick lit novel, Takashi Matsuoka's Cloud of Sparrows doesn't seem to focus enough on the love story for it to be considered an atypical love story.)

(Links:)
Huge list of AM/WF novels
AM/WF Novels that I reviewed on the blog

(Quick note: WF in this case means white woman, and the novels that I am recommending are white woman/Asian man.) 

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