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Understanding Gish Jen

Jennifer Ann Ho



Published: Dec 7 2015


Published: Nov 30 2015

OA Ebook
Published: Nov 30 2015


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

Jennifer Ann Ho introduces readers to a "typical American" writer, Gish Jen, the author of four novels, Typical American, Mona in the Promised Land, The Love Wife, and World and Town; a collection of short stories, Who's Irish?; and a collection of lectures, Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self. Jen writes with an engaging, sardonic, and imaginative voice illuminating themes common to the American experience: immigration, assimilation, individualism, the freedom to choose one's path in life, and the complicated relationships that we have with our families and our communities. A second-generation Chinese American, Jen is widely recognized as an important American literary voice, at once accessible, philosophical, and thought-provoking. In addition to her novels, she has published widely in periodicals such as the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Yale Review.

Ho traces the evolution of Jen's career, her themes, and the development of her narrative voice. In the process she shows why Jen's observations about life in the United States, though revealed through the perspectives of her Asian American and Asian immigrant characters, resonate with a variety of audiences who find themselves reflected in Jen's accounts of love, grief, desire, disappointment, and the general domestic experiences that shape all our lives.

Following a brief biographical sketch, Ho examines each of Jen's major works, showing how she traces the transformation of immigrant dreams into mundane life, explores the limits of self-identification, and characterizes problems of cross-national communication alongside the universal problems of aging and generational conflict. Looking beyond Jen's fiction work, a final chapter examines her essays and her concerns and stature as a public intellectual, and detailed primary and secondary bibliographies provide a valuable point of departure for both teaching and future scholarship.

Jennifer Ann Ho, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teaches courses in Asian American literature, multiethnic American literature, and contemporary American literature. She is the author of Consumption and Identity in Asian American Coming-of-Age Novels and Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture and has published articles in Modern Fiction Studies, Journal for Asian American Studies, and Amerasia Journal, among others.

"Jennifer Ann Ho in Understanding Gish Jen praises her progression from conventional first-person narrators in her early novels to The Love Wife's 'multiple homodiegetic first-person character narrators' who exploit the dynamism of voice and perspective. Ho is especially astute when noticing the little wrinkles of personal experience that tend to shape the author's career."—American Literary Scholarship

"Engagingly and even delightfully written, Understanding Gish Jen provides a much-needed resource for students, teachers, fans, and scholars alike. Ho's survey provides crucial insights about the context, content, and form of Jen's oeuvre. Understanding Gish Jen constitutes a major critical contribution to our understanding of this important American author; no reader of Gish Jen's work should be without this book."—Sue J. Kim, professor of English and co-director of the Center for Asian American Studies, University of Massachusetts Lowell

"Capacious in its analysis and well-researched in its approach, Jennifer Ho's treatment of Gish Jen's oeuvre — inclusive of fiction and creative non-fiction — is impressive, eloquent, and unmatched. A very welcome and smart analysis of a significant American author."—Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, University of Connecticut

"In Understanding Gish Jen, Jennifer Ann Ho offers a walk through the works of one of our most important American writers. Jen is, as Ho describes her, 'a writer with an exceptional eye and ear for the comically absurd parts of contemporary life,' an American writer with her finger on the pulse of what divides us and what brings us together. Ho leaves us with the desire to read and re-read the works of this great contemporary writer, to delight in her humor, to ruminate on her wisdom."—Jeffrey F. L. Partridge, author of Beyond Literary Chinatown, winner of an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation

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