Migration, Melancholia, and Memory in Asian American Narratives of ReturnPatricia P. Chu
In researching accounts of diasporic Chinese offspring who returned to their parents’ ancestral country, author Patricia Chu learned that she was not alone in the experience of growing up in America with an abstract affinity to an ancestral homeland and community. The bittersweet emotions she had are shared in Asian American literature that depicts migration-related melancholia, contests official histories, and portrays Asian American families as flexible and transpacific.
Where I Have Never Been explores the tropes of return, tracing both literal return visits by Asian emigrants and symbolic “returns”: first visits by diasporic offspring. Chu argues that these Asian American narratives seek to remedy widely held anxieties about cultural loss and the erasure of personal and family histories from public memory. In fiction, memoirs, and personal essays, the writers of return narratives—including novelists Lisa See, May-lee Chai, Lydia Minatoya, and Ruth Ozeki, and best-selling author Denise Chong, diplomat Yung Wing, scholar Winberg Chai, essayist Josephine Khu, and many others—register and respond to personal and family losses through acts of remembrance and countermemory.
In the series Asian American History and Culture, edited by Cathy Schlund-Vials, Rick Bonus, and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee. Founding editor, Sucheng Chan; editor emeriti, Michael Omi, David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong, and Linda Trinh Võ
“Where I Have Never Been is a meticulous study of narratives of return by Asian immigrants to China and Japan, charting a century of literary engagements with loss and trauma. From histories of elite overseas students navigating forces of Western colonialism and imperial decline to more recent accounts of Cold War displacement and second-generation imaginaries of places never seen, Chu’s remarkable survey expands Asian American literature and method into a decidedly global frame.”
—David L. Eng, Richard L. Fisher Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania
“ In Where I Have Never Been , A Patricia Chu takes on the entire field of what she calls Asian American narratives of return. In the able hands of this extremely careful and thorough scholar, fresh and thoughtful interpretations of new and relatively unaddressed texts, such as Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, demonstrate their divergence from established Asian American exegesis. Chu’s insightful approach to the trope of ‘return,’ which addresses themes of racial melancholia, flexible citizenship, and post- or counter-memory in beautiful and clear prose, will influence the way scholars in the field read these novels.”
—Monica Chiu, Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire and author of Scrutinized! Surveillance in Asian North American Literature
"(An) expertly prepared and beautifully nuanced set of critical readings that bring canonical Asian North American texts into a new light. Engaging with and forwarding the theoretical works of Kuan-Hsing Chen, Paul Gilroy, Marianne Hirsch, George Lipsitz, and many others, Chu advances a novel way of understanding various types of narrative returns, particularly when those returns are to China.... (H)er explications, contextualization, and theorization of narratives of return (are) not only approachable but genuinely and powerfully engaging.... Asian Americanists frustrated by critiques that are unnecessarily bound by national borders will breathe a sigh of relief reading this."
— China Review International
"Chu’s book contributes to Asian American criticism that explores migration-related themes of racial melancholia, transcultural contacts, Asian diasporas, and cultural hybridity. Unlike previous literary critics, however, she delves into the reverse journey of return and traces and critiques official East Asian history and public memory, which are typically the domains of area studies scholars. In doing so, the work succeeds in achieving its goal of bridging the intersectional fields of Asian American studies and East Asian studies."
Asian American History and Culture
Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeriti editor Michael Omi, David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong and Linda Trinh Võ, series editors Cathy Schlund-Vials, Rick Bonus, and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.