Not your mail-order bride: must-read fiction by Asian women writers
In her biting, hilarious debut, Disorientation, Elaine Hsieh Chou questions who gets to own the narrative, and how stories change when we take control of our own. Here, she discusses the Asian women writers finally getting their stories heard, and recommends five for you to read now (as well as Disorientation, of course).
A recent ad in reputable news publications declared that one of the “top reasons to get an Asian mail order bride” comes down to their supposedly inherent “modesty.” The ad explains, without a hint of irony, that “Asian mail order brides are famous for their quiet, humble and timid character. . . They never transcend the limits of decency and behave appropriately in every situation. . . She’ll never make a scene or start fighting publicly.”
How disappointed these men will be when they learn that Asian women are no different from other women! We feel rage, we are fearless, we can be loud and indecent if we choose, and we certainly do not behave appropriately in every situation. We are capable of cruelty, vengeance, narcissism and every other imaginable “ugly feeling.” In short, we are human.
Hearing yourself described in the third-person never ceases to be a surreal and disorienting (forgive me) experience. Yet I have lived my entire life being told what I am like by people who are nothing like me. It’s no surprise, then, that fiction is where I feel most free. While the disempowered may feel powerless in their lived experiences, we are never disempowered in the act of writing. Alone with the blank page, no one else speaks for me.
Asian women writers have always told our own stories, but our voices haven’t always been privileged and we haven’t always had equal access to publishing. So it brings me great hope that with each passing year, new stories by Asian women writers – including in-translation texts and texts in every imaginable genre – are finding the platform and visibility they deserve. These writers inspire me, challenge me, and above all, they make me feel seen when most literature in English has made me feel the opposite: erased. Each new book by an Asian woman writer subverts the lies that have been told about us because, after all, isn’t a multitude of different stories the surest way to chip away at the false belief that we are all the same?
In these five groundbreaking novels, Asian women characters are allowed to be as defiantly uncategorizable as we are in real life. And to your delight as a reader, you will discover that they are not shy about making a scene.