There’s a boom now in Chinese-American literature. In the wake of Amy Tan’s 1989 best-seller, The Joy Luck Club no fewer than five highly touted books by Chinese-Americans are appearing this spring — Tan’s second novel, The Kitchen God’s Wife, among them. Fifteen years ago, Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior stood in splendid isolation as testimony to the experience of people who left Shanghai, Beijing, and the provinces for New York and San Francisco. But that has all changed.
In addition to Tan, playwright Frank Chin, whom the Los Angeles Times describes as ”the Chinese-American Norman Mailer,” has published his first novel, Donald Duk. Intended as another weapon in his war of words with Kingston, Chin’s book comes with a letter from him describing it $ as the ”real, not the fake” version of their heritage and experience. What would a literary boom be without a literary feud? Other newcomers include Gish Jen, whose novel, Typical American, has just been published by Houghton Mifflin; Gus Lee, whose first novel, China Boy, was published in May; and David Wong Louie, whose first collection of stories, Pangs of Love, is coming from Knopf later this month. Why this sudden profusion of Chinese-American literature? Surely, as Louie notes, the success of Tan and Kingston has helped. But Lee believes there’s more to it than that. ”There is a Chinese belief in rising trends, a synchronicity in events. Maybe that’s what’s happening.” Kingston is inclined to agree, but she also stresses the importance of storytelling in her culture: ”We have stories,” she says, ”and since mainstream American fiction has gone minimalist, readers have turned to our stories for the pleasure of reading about relationships and communities.” After reflecting on the talented Vietnamese and Cambodian writing students she teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, she adds half-seriously: ”Perhaps Chinese-Americans are asserting their American-ness in books before all the Southeast Asians begin to tell their stories. And they do have stories, and adventures!”