There’s something deeply depressing to stories about immigrants and their American children. I’ve just finished reading Secondhand World by Katherine Min. It’s about a Korean American girl named Isadora after the dancer Isadora Duncan. Isadora also has a Korean name, Myung Hee, that only her father uses. As an essentially American girl growing up in the pot hazed days of the 70’s in upstate New York she feels she has little in common with her parents.
There are some really truly sad parts, things to do with family and young love, but I won’t spoil that. What I find depressing about these stories about immigrant families and the distance between generations is that very distance. Something in me wants to strangle the children who treat their parents so poorly. I mean, I know that the character is meant to grow as the novel progresses, slowly coming to appreciate their parents or their culture. But it’s so painful to watch a daughter scorn her parents for their bad English when, as the reader, you know that the parents have worked hard to be where they are, to raise their daughter in America. And the worst part is that, usually, like in this book, by the time the American daughter appreciates her parents and actually take the time to think about their history, it’s too late. Gah! So frustrating!
But, if this is the sort of thing that interests you (and despite the fact that it drives me crazy and makes me sad, it does interest me) then might I suggest a couple other books. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (well, I only saw the movie) and The Barbarians are Coming by David Wong Louie (which I actually really hated).
I also enjoyed this book because Isa grows up in upstate New York (where I’m from) and the author actually used to live where I live. So, there were some familiar places mentioned in the book, and it was fun to imagine my hometown in the 70’s, especially from the perspective of a fellow Asian American.