Four books by Asian American authors reissued under the title Penguin Classics

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Penguin Books has added four books by Asian American authors to its Penguin Classics literary imprint in honor of Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month.

The added tracks are “The Hanging on Union Square” by HT Tsiang, “East Goes West” by Younghill Kang, “No-No Boy” by John Okada and “America is in the Heart” by Carlos Bulosan. The books are scheduled for release on May 21.

The new editions, which include forewords and afterwords from contemporary writers, join Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club” – who was previously named Penguin Classic and had a special 30th anniversary edition released this year – in addition of “The Martyred” by Richard E. Kim and “Doveglion” by José García Villa, as Penguin Classics.

John Siciliano, an editor at the publishing house, said he had always had an interest in bringing more books by authors from different backgrounds to Penguin Classics, but the need grew more urgent after the 2016 elections.

Penguin published a six-book series during Black History Month last year; Siciliano said the response then was overwhelming.

“I redoubled my efforts in this area and wanted to turn to the American experience of Asian origin., “ said Siciliano. “Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month seemed like the right time to roll them out. “

“And sure, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ hit theaters and it just spoke of our enthusiasm and reinforced our thought that now is the right time,” he added.

NBC Asian America spoke to the contributors who annotated these editions about their history and the importance of Tsiang, Kang, Okada and Bulosan.

“The Hanging on Union Square” by HT Tsiang

“The Hanging on Union Square” by HT TsiangPenguin Books

Originally self-published in 1935, “The Hanging on Union Square” by Chinese-American author HT Tsiang follows an unemployed young man in New York City named “Mr. Nuts.”

Mr. Nut spends his day sitting in a cafeteria observing his surroundings and dreaming of being rich. He eventually became a radical activist criticizing social stratification on the streets of Greenwich Village.

Floyd Cheung, professor of English language and literature and American studies at Smith College, wrote the afterword and notes for the Penguin Classics edition. He said his interest in Tsiang’s work stemmed from his desire to have more Asian American literature taught in schools and colleges.

As a student, Cheung researched efforts to reissue older Asian American books after his idea of ​​doing an independent study of Asian American literature was rejected by an academic advisor.

“HT Tsiang was one of the most ignored people at the time and the most exciting as a writer,” Cheung said.

“I fully understand why he was overlooked, because he self-edited most of his works and they didn’t necessarily fit into generic conventions,” he added. “His works were resilient, but not in the way that was readable by contemporary critics, so I made it my mission to bring them back.”

Cheung noted that the 1930s were a time of “incredible activism,” and he is happy that at least one Chinese-American voice is represented from this period.

“Tsiang was interested in what was rotten in the world and asked questions like ‘What’s wrong with capitalism?’ and ‘The Hanging on Union Square’ is the answer to those kinds of questions, ”Cheung said.

“East goes West” by Younghill Kang

“East goes West” by Younghill KangPenguin Books

“East Goes West”, originally published in 1937, follows Korean immigrant Chungpa Han, who fled to New York in the 1920s after the Japanese occupied his home country.

With just four dollars and a suitcase full of Shakespeare to his name, Han struggles to finance his education and lands odd jobs as a salesman, housekeeper, and farmer. In the process, he observes the idealism, greed, and shifting values ​​of industrialization in 20th century America. In the process, he says he observed the idealism, greed, and shifting values ​​of industrialization in 20th century America.

Alexander Chee, author of “The Queen of the Night” and other novels, wrote the preface to this edition. He said he felt both love and anger when he discovered Kang’s handwriting: He loves that the book exists, but was angry that he didn’t know when he was over. young.

Chee, who is multiracial, said he was moved by a particular moment at the beginning of the book when Han had a brief encounter with a half-Japanese, half-Jewish boy as he passed through Maine.

“He’s barely in the paragraph, but I remember the shock I got and wondering, ‘Who was that? Was this someone the author actually met? and that was proof of me before me, ”Chee said.

One of the main things Chee appreciates about the book is Kang’s frankness and honesty in his writing and how the novel isn’t afraid to deal with topics such as white supremacy.

“Everyone who helps him in the book is of Asian or African American descent, and they’re all very explicit about how this is what we have to deal with,” he said. “And he has complicated reactions to that as a way to survive.”

Chee said he hopes people reading this imagine what it’s like to be the first of its kind.

“There were other Korean American immigrants who were also writing at the time, but this is the first novel about us, and therefore, it has this incredible power as a result, and it was interesting for me to think about it. the way I learned to think about my identity and write about it, ”he said.

“No-No Boy” by John Okada

“No-No Boy” by John OkadaPenguin Books

Published in 1957, “No-No Boy” is the only published book by Japanese-American writer John Okada. The novel is set in 1946 in Seattle and tells the story of Ichiro Yamada and the consequences of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

After returning from two years in federal prison after refusing to fight for the United States against Japan, Yamada faces ostracism from the Japanese-American community. While maintaining friendships, Ichiro struggles to imagine his future.

Karen Tei Yamashita, professor of literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz, wrote the introduction to the book and noted that “No, no” referred to a loyalty questionnaire that all Japanese Americans in prison camps had to answer.

Two questions in particular, she said, were whether one would give up loyalty to Japan and serve in the military. The questions were terrifying to many because they didn’t know what the consequences would be if they answered in a specific way, Yamashita said.

“It was a very difficult time that divided the community,” she said. “The people who answered ‘No no’ to these questions were placed in Tule Lake, which was a segregation center for the so-called disloyal people.”

Yamashita said the book is the first of its kind in the sense that no one has addressed the aftermath and effects of the prison camps. But the book was not well received when it was first published, as many Americans of Japanese descent were ashamed of it and worried about the risks it could create for the community, she added.

Yamashita said it was only four young Asian American writers – Jeffrey Chan, Frank Chin, Lawson Fusao Inada and Shawn Wong of the Combined Asian American Resources Project – discovered the book and republished it in the 1970s. that he started to gain more attention. What was tragic, Yamashita said, was that when the young men tried to find Okada, they learned that he had passed away in 1971 and could not see the impact of his work in the following years. .

“The book stimulated a new respect for writers who had come and who weren’t as well known, so I think that in itself is very important in encouraging another generation of writers to continue their work,” said Yamashita.

She added that by reading Okada’s book and writing the introduction, she learned a lot about its meaning and about herself.

“It was a tragic and traumatic event for my family and this generation,” she said. “I had no idea because my parents would always say, ‘It’s over. That was a long time ago. ‘ I think a lot of people try to forget about it, but Okada writes very close and makes you feel like you are in the present.

“America is in the heart” by Carlos Bulosan

“America is in the heart” by Carlos BulosanPenguin Books

In 1943, Carlos Bulosan published a memoir describing his youth in the Philippines, his trip to America, and the hardships he faced as a laborer following the harvest trail in the rural west.

Elaine Castillo, author “America is not in the heart” – a riff on the title of Bulosan’s memoirs – wrote the preface to this edition. She said that although Bulosan’s book is quite well known in the Filipino American community, she feels it is under-read by the general public. Castillo added that when she first read the book, she felt like it was something that could have come from her grandmother’s own stories.

“In the book, Bulosan focuses and describes the poor in the rural areas of the Philippines and the provinces where his mother grew up, where my mother is also from,” Castillo said. “I had never seen people whose lives and economic backgrounds mirrored those of my own family.”

She said the book covered a wide range of topics that are still relevant today, including immigration, police brutality and white supremacy.

“What I find interesting is the immigration intersection,” Castillo said. “There are complications, solidarities and tensions that he does not hesitate to talk about.

Castillo added that this period of Asian American history is still not discussed and that often the stories focus on the middle class or mainly on the American communities of East Asia and less on the poor working communities of Southeast Asia such as the Filipino, Cambodian, Indonesian and Laotian communities.

“Not knowing the history of the Philippines and the history of the Filipinos in America is really not knowing American history at all,” she said. “And finally, imperial history and the crucial elements that went into American politics as we know it today.”

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