Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora

2Q==edited by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, Lan Duong, Mariam B. Lam, and Kathy L. Nguyen
University of Washington Press, 2014

Pairing image and text, Troubling Borders showcases creative writing and visual artworks by sixty-one women of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Thai, and Filipino ancestry. The collection features compelling storytelling that troubles the borders of categorization and reflects the multilayered experience of Southeast Asian women.

The diverse voices featured here have been shaped by colonization, wars, globalization, and militarization. For some of these women on the margins of the margin, crafting and showing their work is a bold act in itself. Their provocative and accessible creations tell unique stories, provide a sharp contrast to familiar stereotypes – Southeast Asian women as exotic sex symbols, dragon ladies, prostitutes, and “bar girls”-and serve as entry points for broader discussions on questions of history, memory, and identity. (Publisher’s website)

Isabelle Thuy Pelaud is associate professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University; Lan Duong is associate professor of media and cultural studies at the University of California, Riverside; Mariam B. Lam is associate professor of comparative literature, media and cultural studies, and director of Southeast Asian studies, at the University of California, Riverside; and Kathy L. Nguyen is a writer and editor in San Francisco.

 

 

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Aphrodite’s Island: The European Discovery of Tahiti

by Anne Salmond
University of California Press, 2009.

Aphrodite’s Island is a new account of the European discovery of Tahiti, the Pacific island of mythic status that has figured so powerfully in European imaginings about sexuality, the exotic, and the nobility or bestiality of “savages.” In this book, Anne Salmond takes readers to the center of the shared history to furnish insights into Tahitian perceptions of the visitors while illuminating the full extent of European fascination with Tahiti. As she discerns the impact and meaning of the European effect on the islands, she demonstrates how, during the early contact period, the mythologies of Europe and Tahiti intersected and became entwined. Drawing on Tahitian oral histories, European manuscripts and artworks, collections of Tahitian artifacts, and illustrated with contemporary sketches, paintings, and engravings from the voyages, Aphrodite’s Island provides an account of the Europeans’ Tahitian adventures. (Publisher’s description)

Anne Salmond is a historian, writer and academic. She worked closely with Eruera and Amiria Stirling, noted elders of Te Whaanau-a-Apanui and Ngati Porou, a collaboration which led to the publication of several books. Salmond has been the recipient of numerous literary awards, scholarships and academic prizes. In 1995 she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire for services to New Zealand history, in 2004 she received a Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for non-fiction, and in 2007 she became an inaugural Fellow of the New Zealand Academy of the Humanities.

Island World: A History of Hawai‘i and the United States

okihiro-islandBy Gary Y. Okihiro
University of California Press, 2008

In Island World, Gary Y. Okihiro reconsiders the traditional idea that the United States acts upon and dominates Hawai‘i without the Islands in turn acting upon the mainland U.S. Using geology, folklore, music, cultural commentary, and history, Okihiro reveals Hawaiians fighting in the Civil War, sailing on nineteenth-century New England ships, and living in pre-gold rush California. He points to Hawai‘i’s lingering effect on twentieth-century American culture—from surfboards, hula, sports, and films, to art, imagination, and racial perspectives—even as the islands themselves succumb slowly to the continental United States. This book not only revises the way we think about islands, oceans, and continents, but also recasts the way we write about place and history.(Publisher’s description)

Gary Y. Okihiro is Professor of International and Public Affairs and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University. His recent works include Common Ground: Reimagining American History.

No Bottom

41shfpo340l-_sx333_bo1204203200_By Mike Newell
Xoxox Press, 2008

Working on seasonal wildfires in the 1970’s and 1980’s across Alaskan tundra and mountain ranges, wildland firefighter Mike Newell developed a deep appreciation for an arctic and subarctic landscape whose scale dwarfs all human effort. Returning each fire season, Newell found himself increasingly transfixed by the primal allure of the Alaskan bush. Years later, he paused in a bookshop and pulled Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams off the shelf. What he found there began to engender in Newell a sense of what one reader has described as “learned understanding of wild places.” The chance encounter with Lopez’s National Book Award winning non-fiction work began a pattern of inquiry for Newell that, over twenty years later, now culminates in the publication of No Bottom. Newell’s book features an incisive interview with Barry Lopez accompanied by a careful inquiry into Lopez’s short fiction books. Both the interview and the critical inquiry serve well as a primer for those coming new to Barry Lopez’s work and as a valuable source of insight for scholars.

Mike Newell is the author of three books of poetry —Underground Fires, The Unlived Life and Aestivation—and the newly-issued No Bottom. Following his early years as a wildland firefighter, Newell taught at-risk students in public schools and correctional facilities for over two decades, retiring in 2004. After a 19-year hiatus from firefighting in Alaska, he re-certified his fire qualifications in 2000 and went to work on western wildfires. Mike Newell lives and writes in upstate New York. (Publisher’s description)

 

Speaking Havoc: Social Suffering & South Asian Narratives

51lmorbwcxlBy Ramu Nagappan

University of Washington Press, 2005

Who has the right to speak about trauma? As cultural products, narratives of social suffering paradoxically release us from responsibility while demanding that we examine our own connectedness to the circumstances that produce suffering. As a result, the text’s act of “speaking havoc” rebounds in unsettling ways.Speaking Havoc investigates how literary and cinematic fictions intervene in the politics and reception of social suffering. Amitav Ghosh’s modernist novel The Shadow Lines (1988), A Fine Balance (1995) by Rohinton Mistry, the short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, Salman Rushdie’s postmodernist novel Shame (1983), and the “spectacular” films of Maniratnam: each bears witness to social violence in South Asia. These works confront squarely a number of ethical dilemmas in representations of social suffering – the catastrophes and innumerable minor tragedies that arise from clashes among religious and ethnic communities.

Focusing on central events such as the Partition of 1947, the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, and more recent religious conflicts between India and Pakistan, Nagappan demonstrates the differing ways that narratives engage – often in ambiguous and problematic ways – the political violence that has marked the last fifty years of South Asian history. Is it possible to tell fully the stories of those who have died and those who have survived? Can writing really act as a counter to silence? In his compassionate engagement with these concerns, Nagappan demonstrates the relevance of literature and literary studies to fundamental sociological, anthropological, and political issues. (Publisher’s description)

Ramu Nagappan is an instructor and coordinator of Interdisciplinary Studies in Medicine and the Humanities in the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco.

Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation


By Jonathan Lear

Harvard University Press, 2006.

Jonathan Lear, a psychoanalyst and professor of philosophy, delves into what he calls the ‘blind spot’ of any culture: the inability to conceive of its own devastation. He molds his thoughts around a poignant historical model, the decimated nation of Crow Indians in the early decades of the twentieth century. The last Crow chief, Plenty Coups, told his white friend and biographer, Frank B. Linderman, about what happened to his people “when the buffalo went away.” They were despondent, and in Plenty Coups’ words, “After this nothing happened.” Lear dissects this phenomenon, and the Crows’ struggle for continued survival, in a highly esoteric discussion drawing on the writings of Aristotle, Plato, and other philosophers. What makes this discussion relevant to mainstream readers is his application of the blind-spot hypothesis to the present, in which the twenty-first century was ushered in by terrorist attacks, social upheavals, and natural catastrophes, leaving us with ‘an uncanny sense of menace’ and a heightened perception of how vulnerable our civilizations are to destruction, as was the Crow’s. (Reviewed by Deborah Donovan, Booklist)

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time


By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Viking Penguin, 2007.

Some failures lead to phenomenal successes, and this American nurse’s unsuccessful attempt to climb K2, the world’s second tallest mountain, is one of them. Dangerously ill when he finished his climb in 1993, Mortenson was sheltered for seven weeks by the small Pakistani village of Korphe; in return, he promised to build the impoverished town’s first school, a project that grew into the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Coauthor Relin recounts Mortenson’s efforts in fascinating detail, presenting compelling portraits of the village elders, con artists, philanthropists, mujahideen, Taliban officials, ambitious school girls and upright Muslims Mortenson met along the way. As the book moves into the post-9/11 world, Mortenson and Relin argue that the United States must fight Islamic extremism in the region through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls. Captivating and suspenseful, with engrossing accounts of both hostilities and unlikely friendships, this book will win many readers’ hearts. (Publishers Weekly)