Asian American Literature Fans – Small Press Spotlight: Restless Books (May 5, 2016)

Asian American Literature Fans – Small Press Spotlight: Restless Books

May 5, 2016

This spotlight contains reviews of: Tash Aw’s Strangers on a Pier (Restless Books, 2016) and A Time Code (Restless Books, Print Edition, 2016).

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. As part of my acknowledgement of this month, I am attempting to amass 31 reviews, so my rate would come out on average to a review a day in the month of May. We’ll see if I’m able to complete this challenge, but as part of this initiative, I’m hoping that my efforts might be matched in some way by you: so if you’re a reader and lurker of AALF, I am encouraging you to make your own post or respond to one of the reviews. Would it be too much to ask for 31 comments and/or posts by readers and others? Probably, but the gauntlet has been thrown. LJ is open access, so you can create your own profile or you can post anonymously. I kindly encourage you to comment just to acknowledge your participation in AALF’s readership. Better yet, join the active and current reviewers list, which you can see at the conclusion to this post! Feel free to e-mail me at ssohnucr@gmail.com to find out more about how you can get involved.

For more on APA Heritage Month, go here:

http://asianpacificheritage.gov/

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This post is a small press spotlight focusing on Restless Books, which first came to my attention because it was the press that offered the first stateside publication of Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s fictions. In this post, I focus on the innovative “Face” series that has involved Chris Abani, Ruth Ozeki, and Tash Aw. Not surprisingly, I’ll be focusing on Ozeki and Aw, though I would venture to say that you pick up all three given how compelling the two I read already are. To browse the offerings over at Restless Books, go here:

http://www.restlessbooks.com/

Now on to some reviews!

A Review of Tash Aw’s Strangers on a Pier (Restless Books, 2016).



So, I’ve been meaning to review some titles coming out of a very cool press called Restless Books, and I finally get a chance to with the “The Face” series, which is a set of short, pocket sized titles (on high quality trade paperback type stock which is obviously really important to me hehe) that provides established writers a chance to meditate on their faces and how it impacts their understanding of the world and their writings. It’s a creative nonfiction conceit at its best, and the first I read in this series (with a second I’ll be reviewing at a later point by Ruth Ozeki) is Tash Aw’s Strangers on a Pier. The title is meant to invoke the complications of migration and how that process inevitably estranges, but also provides the opportunity for new contacts and new relationships to emerge. What seems most compelling to Aw is the process of forgetting and editing that can occur in diasporic movements. On the one hand, forgetting allows one to forge a new identity, while on the on the other, editing allows one the ability to tailor that identity in such a way as to create a kind of rhetoric behind one’s place in a new homeland. Aw is additionally invested in rooting out what is forgotten, what one wants to erase and to figure out why certain bonds become slack or covered over. In this sense, Aw makes clear that his creative inspirations as a writer and editor appear in seeing how relationships are determined only to be later made unstable by a contextual force or power. For instance, toward the concluding arc of his piece for “The Face” series, he makes apparent the ways in which capitalism and upward mobility inevitably fracture students who have been growing up together in a specific school system. Some students eventually achieve incredible success, while other struggle to find their footing as adults. Ultimately, their lives as adults seem a far cry from the communal identity that they once felicitously shared. Aw does link the everyman quality of his face to the fact of his ascension: the chameleonic nature of his countenance alongside his upper middle class upbringing provide him with a measure of mobility that many of his former students cannot claim. Even then, he makes apparent that fluidity has its limits. The writing in this piece makes me wish Aw would publish a creative nonfictional work, since he has thus far focused on fiction. I especially adored Aw’s Map of the Invisible World and hope he has much more in store for us soon.

Buy the Book Here:

http://www.restlessbooks.com/bookstore/the-face-aw

A Review of Ruth Ozeki’s A Time Code (Restless Books, Print Edition, 2016)




I’ve been enjoying “The Face” series that has been put out by Restless Books. The second book I read in this series is Ruth Ozeki’s A Time Code. As most already know, Ozeki is the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels (such as My Year of Meats, All Over Creation, and A Tale for the Time Being). She dives into the creative nonfictional genre with this particular work. I previously completed Tash Aw’s version Stranger on a Pier, which explored the complications of the diasporic subject hailing from Southeast Asia. His approach to the work was more or less a narratively driven memoir with a kind of philosophical flair. Ozeki’s version of “The Face” has a generalized structure based upon a Zen Buddhist koan that involves staring at one’s own face for three straight hours and detailing what thoughts come up. As A Time Code moves forward, she notes these various musings around the hour and minute they appear. In between these temporal markings—the titular time codes—Ozeki occasionally provides us with memoir-ish anecdotes involving her life and her face. One of the most compelling through-lines is not surprisingly the problematics of a mixed race upbringing, which necessarily revolve around the question of phenotype and the issues that arise when one’s face does not necessarily evoke a single or definitive ancestry. It was also fascinating to hear about her life growing up as the child of an ivy league professor and how she negotiated her upbringing as the daughter of parents who had married late. The other big reveal that I hadn’t known (and perhaps I should be faulted for this lack of knowledge) was that Ozeki is a pen name taken in part because she was honoring a request made by her late father concerning some issues related to publishing and family privacy. Finally, Ozeki squarely considers the thorny politics around aging and questions of beauty. Here, Ozeki ponders the kinds of decisions that go into things like plastic surgery and an author’s publicity photo. As always, Ozeki injects humor into her prose, a characteristic of all of her earlier publications, making this reading experience undoubtedly captivating.

To end, I wanted to note that “The Face” series has a third installment penned by Chris Abani. Given the succinct and provocative versions offered by both Tash Aw and Ruth Ozeki, you might as well pick up the final one and hope for many more.

Buy the Book Here:

http://www.restlessbooks.com/bookstore/the-face-ozeki


Other titles of interest (and perhaps to be reviewed here at a later time):

Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s Between Clay and Dust




http://www.restlessbooks.com/bookstore/between-clay-and-dust

Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s Story of a Widow (currently only available in an e-edition)




http://www.restlessbooks.com/bookstore/the-story-of-a-widow

Githa Hariharan’s Almost Home




http://www.restlessbooks.com/bookstore/almost-home

Santha Rama Rau’s Gifts of Passage (currently only available in an e-edition)




http://www.restlessbooks.com/bookstore/gifts-of-passage


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AALF uses “maximal ideological inclusiveness” to define Asian American literature. Thus, we review any writers working in the English language of Asian descent. We also review titles related to Asian American contexts without regard to authorial descent. We also consider titles in translation pending their relationship to America, broadly defined. Our point is precisely to cast the widest net possible.

With apologies as always for any typographical, grammatical, or factual errors. My intent in these reviews is to illuminate the wide-ranging and expansive terrain of Asian American and Asian Anglophone literatures. Please e-mail ssohnucr@gmail.com with any concerns you may have.

AALF is maintained by a number of professional academics and scholars, including Paul Lai (pylduck@gmail.com), who is the social media liaison and expert. Current, active as well previous reviewers have included (but are not necessarily limited to):

Sue J. Kim, Professor, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
Jennifer Ann Ho, Professor, UNC-Chapel Hill
Betsy Huang, Associate Professor, Clark University

Nadeen Kharputly, PhD Candidate, UC San Diego
Annabeth Leow, Coterminal MA Student, Stanford University

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Aw's _Strangers on a Pier_
Aw's book is a great antidote to exuberant "Rising Asia" narratives. I especially liked the part where his father suggests that it's shame rather than practicality or ambition that motivates the editing of national histories and cultural memories. I also found his TED talk on culture and identity very intriguing (it can be viewed on Youtube I think).