portrait of the Artist as a young Korean-American
April 16, 2020 7:03 AM   Subscribe

"What if the finest, funniest, craziest, sanest, most cheerfully depressing Korean-American novel was also one of the first? To a modern reader, the most dated thing about Younghill Kang’s East Goes West, published by Scribner’s in 1937, is its tired title. Practically everything else about this brash modernist comic novel still feels electric... Its value is in the heady mix of high and low, the antic yet clear-eyed take on race relations, the parade of tragic and comic bit players, and above all, the unleashed chattering of Chungpa’s distinctive voice. Underlying the richness and humor, there’s a deep pessimism about making it in America, for anyone not white and male." Ed Park writes for the New York Review of Books about the 1937 comic novel.
posted by ChuraChura (2 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Haven't read the article yet, but I read the book at the end of last year and greatly enjoyed it. It definitely doesn't read as old as it is.
posted by hopeless romantique at 8:49 AM on April 16, 2020

Beautiful article. Thank you. The snippets of Kang's writing were entrancing.

He married a Caucasian woman in 1929, whoa. My mom was born (in Canada) in 1931 and she told me that when she was young and dating, there was a White guy she'd had serious chemistry and potential long-term vibes with, but "You didn't marry outside of your race in those days. You just didn't." But of course Kang's gender and circumstances were way different. Also the article notes that his wife, Frances Keely, lost her American citizenship when she married him (but apparently she got it back in 1931). I wonder if their descendants married White and "became White" Americans. I wonder if they hung onto this amazing family history.

Here's a fairly dense academic analysis of Kang's legacy by Stephen Knadler.

And on a lighter note, I'm looking forward to seeing how it compares with the storyline and themes of The Four Immigrants, which is a contemporary musical by an Asian American composer and playwright, based on a "semi-autobiographical series of comic strips written and drawn by Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama from 1924 to 1927" (click for an audio sample of the musical) about his and his friends' experiences as Japanese immigrants in America.

Thank you for the post.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:56 PM on April 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

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