I read Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese last night — what a great graphic novel. It weaves together three story lines — a mythic tale of an arrogant Monkey King, a personal narrative of being one of a few Asian kids in grade school and high school, and a satire/sit-com of an All-American kid, Danny, who is embarrassed by a visit from his cousin Chin-Kee, a buck-toothed cariacture of the Chinese immigrant. Yang jumps from storyline to storyline and of course they all converge in the end. It’s a great piece of visual storytelling (or sequential art, or whatever you favorite term is). I checked this one out from the Morrison Reading Room, but I’m probably going to buy it the next time I go to Comic Relief.
Frank Chin’s Donald Duk is another book I read in the last year, and it deals with a lot of the same issues — it’s also set in San Francisco and deals with a kid named Donald trying to grapple with his identity. Chin also flashes between storylines; Donald has a recurring nightmare about building the transcontinental railroad. His dreams are also laden with epic storytelling, this time influenced by his Uncle’s Chinese opera stories. I knew Chin from his play The Chickencoop Chinaman, so I was excited to read his novel. It may be a bit tricky to find, since it’s published by a smaller press, but it’s well worth it.
If I was running an Asian American literature class, I’d definitely pair these two books up for discussion. The best thing about them is they got me thinking about my own writing again. Identity politics was starting to feel passé, but these stories still seem fresh.