Reflections: VASAM Reading Collection

The members of the Vassar Asian American Working Group (VASAM) have compiled a collection to mark 40 years since the start of the movement for Asian American Studies at Vassar. These books range from nonfiction biographies and memoirs, educational texts written by prominent Asian American professors and important works in our history to the favorite novels of Asian American students and faculty here at Vassar. From Yuri Kochiyama’s biography to the short stories of Jenny Zhang, these works inspire and reflect our own personal histories and identities while connecting us through human themes and emotions.

Through this bibliography, VASAM  hopes to highlight the breadth of Asian American experiences, the knowledge we can gain from learning about them and uplifting Asian American voices, and the deficit Vassar continues to have as long as it neglects quality Asian American representation in its curriculum.

This collection is brought to you in collaboration with the Vassar College Libraries EPI Project – creating a place of belonging for all students by providing space and support for student art, performance, and expression in the libraries.

The Library EPI Project is interested in hearing from individuals or groups who want to exhibit or perform their work in the Spring or Fall or curate their own reading collection for inclusion in the library. If you or your organization are interested, or have an idea to pitch, please reach out to Deb Bucher at debucher@vassar.edu.

 VASSAR ASIAN AMERICAN WORKING GROUP (VASAM) BIBLIOGRAPHY

Now on display in the Thompson Memorial Library Lobby through Mid-April.

The Sympathizer by Viet Than Nguyen

A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. In dialogue with but diametrically opposed to the narratives of the Vietnam War that have preceded it, this novel offers an important and unfamiliar new perspective on the war: that of a conflicted communist sympathizer.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko is the second novel by Korean-American author Min Jin Lee. Published in 2017, Pachinko is an epic historical novel following a Korean family who eventually migrate to Japan, it is the first novel written for an adult, English-speaking audience about Japanese–Korean culture.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.

Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother’s “talk stories.” The fierce and wily women warriors of her mother’s tales clash jarringly with the harsh reality of female oppression out of which they come. Kingston’s sense of self emerges in the mystifying gaps in these stories, which she learns to fill with stories of her own. A warrior of words, she forges fractured myths and memories into an incandescent whole, achieving a new understanding of her family’s past and her own present. Includes a fun version of the legend of Mulan!

Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book by Maxine Hong Kingston

One of Vassar English Professor Hua Hsu’s favorites: “Set in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1960s, Wittman Ah Sing is conflicted over his Chinese ancestry. … His thoughts become more fixated on the similarities between himself, and the character of a monkey king, Sun Wukong from the Chinese epic novel Journey to the West, giving the novel its name.”

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon

The experience of South American asians is an important perspective and one not often often heard about. Snow Hunters traces the extraordinary journey of Yohan, a twenty-five-year-old North Korean POW refugee who defects from his country at the end of the Korean War, leaving his friends and family behind to seek a new life in a port town on the coast of Brazil.

Sour Heart: Stories by Jenny Zhang

A favorite of one of VASAM’s members: Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart, tells about the lives of several Chinese American immigrant parents and their daughters in New York through overlapping short stories. Her stories break the model minority stereotype and honestly conveys the struggles of family, parenthood, and the role of children of immigrants.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, caught in the tragic sweep of history, The Kite Runner transports readers to Afghanistan at a tense and crucial moment of change and destruction. A powerful story of friendship, it is also about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam

A vibrant debut novel, set in Brooklyn and Bangladesh, follows three young women and one family struggling to make peace with secrets and their past. “The miracles in Bright Lines are the understated moments of family telepathy. . . . An understated queer coming-of-age, a study of how much work it is to be a family, and a snapshot of a disappearing Brooklyn, set against the ghosts of the past, and a search for home.” NPR.org

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

In The Namesake, the Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri brilliantly illuminates the immigrant experience and the tangled ties between generations. Meet the Ganguli family, new arrivals from Calcutta, trying their best to become Americans even as they pine for home. The name they bestow on their firstborn, Gogol, betrays all the conflicts of honoring tradition in a new world—conflicts that will haunt Gogol on his own winding path through divided loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman 

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia’s parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Yang’s American Born Chinese tells a story of the struggle of accepting the duality nature of Asian Americans. The graphic novel tells the story of three seemingly unrelated stories of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King in Chinese legends, Jin Wang, an Asian American boy, and Danny, a white American boy with a Chinese cousin. It’s an easy read meant for young adults that is filled with humor. But, it still manages to express the struggle of being Asian American in a serious light. Yang has managed to create something fun and relatable while getting his target audience to likely think about their identity for the first time.

Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar

Written by Vassar’s English Professor Kumar: Carrying a single suitcase, Kailash arrives in post-Reagan America from India to attend graduate school. As he begins to settle into American existence, Kailash comes under the indelible influence of a charismatic professor, and also finds his life reshaped by a series of very different women with whom he recklessly falls in and out of love. Looking back on the formative period of his youth, Kailash’s wry, vivid perception of the world he is in, but never quite of, unfurls in a brilliant melding of anecdote and annotation, picture and text. Building a case for himself, both as a good man in spite of his flaws and as an American in defiance of his place of birth, Kailash weaves a story that is at its core an incandescent investigation of love—despite, beyond, and across dividing lines.

No-No Boy by John Okada

No-No Boy has the honor of being among the first of what has become an entire literary canon of Asian American literature,” writes novelist Ruth Ozeki in her new foreword…No-No Boy tells the story of Ichiro Yamada, a fictional version of the real-life “no-no boys.” Yamada answered “no” twice in a compulsory government questionnaire as to whether he would serve in the armed forces and swear loyalty to the United States. Unwilling to pledge himself to the country that interned him and his family, Ichiro earns two years in prison and the hostility of his family and community when he returns home to Seattle. As Ozeki writes, Ichiro’s “obsessive, tormented” voice subverts Japanese postwar “model-minority” stereotypes, showing a fractured community and one man’s “threnody of guilt, rage, and blame as he tries to negotiate his reentry into a shattered world.”

Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality in Gaysian America by Winter Han

“Geisha of a Different Kind” bravely engages with the struggles and triumphs of Asian American gay men as they inhabit American society and its gay mainstream.A lucid study with an unflinching focus on the daily contingencies of these men’s lives, this book is an important contribution to the scholarly understanding of contemporary U.S. sex/gender systems and their fraught links to racial formations.”—Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora.

Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina by Denise Cruz

In this groundbreaking study, Denise Cruz investigates the importance of the figure she terms the “transpacific Filipina” to Philippine nationalism, women’s suffrage, and constructions of modernity. Through a careful study of multiple texts produced by Filipina and Filipino writers in the Philippines and the United States—including novels and short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, conduct manuals, and editorial cartoons—Cruz provides a new archive and fresh perspectives for understanding Philippine literature and culture. Cruz shows how the complex interplay of feminism, nationalism, empire, and modernity helped to shape, and were shaped by, conceptions of the transpacific Filipina.

The Intimacies of Four Continents by Lisa Lowe

One of Professor Gary Okihiro’s favorites: In this uniquely interdisciplinary work, Lisa Lowe examines the relationships between Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth- centuries, exploring the links between colonialism, slavery, imperial trades and Western liberalism. Analyzing the archive of liberalism alongside the colonial state archives from which it has been separated, Lowe offers new methods for interpreting the past, examining events well documented in archives, and those matters absent, whether actively suppressed or merely deemed insignificant.

American History: Unbound by Gary Okihiro

Written by Professor Gary Okihiro of Asian American studies at Yale, American History Unbound reveals our past through the lens of Asian American and Pacific Islander history. Gary Y. Okihiro positions Asians and Pacific Islanders within a larger history of people of color in the United States and places the United States in the context of world history and oceanic worlds.

Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama Diane C. Fujino by Diane C. Fujino

Heartbeat of Struggle is the first biography of Yuri Kochiyama, the most prominent Asian American activist to emerge during the 1960s. Based on extensive archival research and interviews with Kochiyama’s family, friends, and the subject herself, Diane C. Fujino traces Kochiyama’s life from an “all-American” childhood to her accomplishments as a tireless defender of—and fighter for—human rights.

America is in the Heart: A Personal History by Carlos Bulosan

First published in 1943, this classic memoir by well-known Filipino poet Carlos Bulosan describes his boyhood in the Philippines, his voyage to America, and his years of hardship and despair as an itinerant laborer following the harvest trail in the rural West. America is in the Heart is one of the first novels written from an Asian American and working class perspective to be published.

Without You There is No Us by Suki Kim

A haunting memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il’s reign. Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world’s most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls “soldiers and slaves.”

Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

One of Professor Hua Hsu’s favorites: Dictée is the best-known work of the versatile and important Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. A classic work of autobiography that transcends the self, Dictée is the story of several women: the Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Joan of Arc, Demeter and Persephone, Cha’s mother Hyung Soon Huo (a Korean born in Manchuria to first-generation Korean exiles), and Cha herself. The elements that unite these women are suffering and the transcendence of suffering. The book is divided into nine parts structured around the Greek Muses. Cha deploys a variety of texts, documents, images, and forms of address and inquiry to explore issues of dislocation and the fragmentation of memory. The result is a work of power, complexity, and enduring beauty.

The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee

The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day. An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II. Over the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States.

 

Valentine’s Day and the Ancient Greek novel

Deb Bucher, Head of Collection Development and Research Services

On Valentine’s Day our thoughts turn to romance. And if you love books, you might start thinking about the great romance novels you’ve read, or are embarrassed to admit you’ve read. Think what you will about that genre, it’s been around for almost two thousand years! Around the 2nd century CE several Greek long-form stories appeared that had similar themes: boy meets girl, they fall in love, they get separated by events and bad people, they have unpleasant experiences, fate brings them back together, and they live happily ever after. Translators, artists, composers, play-writes, and illustrators have all contributed to the longevity of not just this literary form, but the ancient Greek stories themselves.

One example is the story of Daphnis and Chloe, attributed to someone named Longus, who may have lived around the year 200 CE (the jury’s still out whether or not there was someone named Longus or whether that name is just a bad reading of a manuscript!). In brief, Daphnis and Chloe grow up together on Lesbos, both adopted by shepherds. As children they don’t realize what they feel for each other is love; but as youth, they become separated, and then finally find each other again and live happily ever after. The loss of childhood innocence, the influence of nature and the merits of country living are themes that appear in the story. While the manuscript evidence for Daphnis and Chloe is slim (only two complete manuscripts survive!), scholars believe that the long-form genre was immensely popular in antiquity because so many different examples have survived, sometime only in papyrus fragments. But their last influence is also attested by a copious amount of translations from the Renaissance onward, and recent scholarship on the genre. Daphnis and Chloe was first translated into French in the sixteenth century by Jacques Amyot. His translation became a classic in its own right. You can see a beautiful 1780 edition of it at HathiTrust. The Archives and Special Collections here at Vassar also holds a copy of this edition.

A later 1890 edition of Amyot’s translation, amended by Paul Louis Courier from a more complete manuscript he discovered in 1801 at the Laurentian Library in Florence, is this beautiful edition housed at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France. It has artwork by Louis-Joseph-Raphaël Collin, a French painter who lived from 1850 – 1916. He was influenced by Japanese painting, which you can see in this edition. Vassar’s copy is actually an unattributed English translation published ca. 1896 also in Paris by the Société des Beaux Arts. In addition to the detailed color plates, the English edition also has historiated initials at the beginning of each chapter. The book is a wonderful example of a French livre de luxe; such books, made for collectors, were popular at this time. Mixed reviews followed it’s publication. A review in the Academy (January 16, 1897, p.73) suggests that the book “will be found alluring by a certain class of people” and that the English translation is “without charm.” In contrast, the review in the Publishers’ Circular (January 23, 1897, p.111) commends the edition as “princely.”

Our copy has special significance for us because it was a gift from Rebecca Lawrence Lowrie, class of 1913. She had no.4 of the “Edition artistique,” which was limited to seventy-five copies for England and America. It came to Vassar as part of a gift of over 3,000 items, most of which are now housed in Special Collections.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Geological Illustration from Catastrophism to the Anthropocene

An Exhibition at the Vassar College Art Library

October 5 to December 20, 2018

Our exhibit begins with the 1697 English edition of Thomas Burnet’s Theory of the Earth, opened to an engraved image of a view of the Earth at the receding of the waters of the great Deluge described in Genesis 6-9, showing a tiny Noah’s Ark grounded on Mount Ararat at the center, and, according to the author’s theory, Earth’s newly formed continents and mountain chains just visible under the waves.  As an example of illustration we would consider the image today to be more fanciful than scientific, based on scriptural sources, since we believe today that most familiar landforms developed through time very gradually and not by catastrophes and cataclysms, divinely caused or natural, such as floods and volcanoes. The image, however, is emblematic of a number of natural histories illustrated by contemporary interpreters of the science and history of our planet, including the artists whose works appear elsewhere in this exhibit.

Detail of an illustration concerning the composition of the crust in the Paris’ basin, from Cuvier’s and Brongniart’s study.

Noah’s Ark, whose etymology (Old English ærc, from Latin arca, chest) describes a closed box or tabernacle (as in the Ark of the Covenant), denotes as well a box for keeping records. It is related to our word “archive,” and is symbolic of the impulse toward archivism that characterizes so many of the books displayed here. George Cuvier, the founder of paleontology, for instance, in his own Theory of the Earth (1818) presents the Earth itself as an archive of ancient activity as well as of living and extinct life forms, organized temporally in layered strata, which binds geologic science through the fossil record to biological history.

Eurypterus (sea scorpion) fossil. Courtesy Scott Warthin Museum of Geology and Natural History, Vassar College

The ark of the Earth itself therefore transports and discloses to us across great spans of time information about events and species that time and the Earth have both swallowed up, including, as Darwin would eventually surmise, our own ancestry.

The close alliance between artistic illustration and geologic theory and documentation examined in the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center exhibition Past Time: Geology in European and American Art, which this exhibit accompanies, was facilitated from the middle of the Nineteenth Century, as was all scientific recording, with the invention of photography and the adoption of the photographic document.  George Shattuck, a Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Vassar College at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, bolstered his own geologic exploration and teaching by becoming an early adept and proponent of this medium, deployed here for educational purposes in his photographic guide, Geological Rambles Near Vassar College, (1907). Besides his use of photography as an archival medium, Shattuck’s descriptive rambles signal another feature embodied in Burnet’s account of Noah’s Ark, that of the “story” in “natural history,” or the use of narrative for recording past events. Most of the remaining artists’ books in our own “ark” (our Art Library exhibit case was originally designed for displaying scientific specimens) investigate both types of documentary media: storytelling and the photograph.

 

Most prominent here for examples of itinerant narrative and photography both are the publications of the British artist Richard Long, whose work is comprised of photographic and sculptural records of his own rambles across landscapes and his interventions therein. Eight of his books are exhibited here along the bottom of the exhibit case (1984-2001).

Long is keenly interested in the role of human activity on the memorial record of the Earth, and he may be viewed as an early interpreter of the concept of a new era characterized by human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, designated popularly as the Anthropocene.  

 

Other artists here whose works examine the tools of narrative and photographic documentation include Swiss-born Jelena Martinovic’s historically-inclined tribute to mountaineers, Bold Climbers (2016),

Belfast-born Maria Fusco’s myth-tinged book documenting the building of the Cruachan Power Station, Master Rock (2015),

Michelle Stuart’s fanciful history of a California inhabited only by women, The Fall (1976),

and the Norwegian artist Kurt Johannessen’s talismanic and anthropomorphizing Steiner (2002), who recites stories not about rocks but to rocks.

Like Johannessen’s Steiner, Luke Stettner’s artist’s book History Database (2016) is an archive that blurs the distinction between the living or once-living, and non-living aspects of the geologic record. Like Martinovic, Fusco, and Stuart, Stettner employs archival photographs and illustrations, along with new photography, drawings, pictograms and photocopies to tell a larger story about mortality, documentation, and deep time.

Most interesting in her exploration of the Earth, archives, narrative, and photography, in her work Duskdust (2016), the Berlin-born artist Susanne Kriemann creates documents from the material of the Earth itself in the stark light of what is sometimes referred to as the “bunker archaeology” of the Anthropocene.  Her silk screens incorporate paper made from ground limestone from the abandoned quarry on the Swedish island of Gotland she investigates, while her photographs capture the natural light of the quarry at various times of day, relating these by association to narrative texts and archival materials, including old photographs.

Not all of our contemporary illustrative interpreters of the Earth are photographers.  The graphic (from the Greek graphos, to write, carve, or dig) artist Rodger Binyone’s colorful artist’s book MAGMA:  Dynamo Conflagration No. 10 (2015), is a fanciful narrative based loosely on Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (very loosely), about a Canadian volcanist and her assistant’s quest, aided by a mole rat, into the Earth’s core in search of a special neon-red Icelandic magma.

Brooklyn-based Sibba Hartunian’s books Volcanoes and Mountains are colorful multiples issued and sold inexpensively in small numbers, produced through environmentally-friendly risograph printing (employing a soy-based gelatin), enlisting the artist’s process in limiting the disruption done to the Earth by human intervention.

Also addressing the damaging effects of humanity on the Earth characteristic of the Anthropocene is Etienne Turpin’s An Anarchist Introduction to the Anthropocene (2015), which brings to bear a narrative asserting the “centrality of militant labor as a force capable of transforming the nature of cities, the culture of America, and the geologic deep-time marked by the Anthropocene.”

Positive approaches to our relationship with the Earth are also apparent in certain institutional or governmental competitive projects that meld earth science and art.  These are represented here by the NOAAs (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Western Regional Center at Sand Point, Washington in the land art featured in Five Artists at NOAA: A Casebook on Art in Public Places (1985);

and EOS (Earth Observatory Singapore: Art Projects 2010-2013: Six Projects Inspired by Earth Science (2014).

Finally, in her acclaimed Queens Museum exhibition of last year, Wandering Lake (2017), documented in her artist book of the same name, Patty Chang offers a geologic, archival, and photographic meditation on the loss of her father and the birth of her son.  Her thoughts are interwoven with a narrative inspired by the Swedish geographer and travel writer Sven Hedin, who tells a story about a migrating lake in the Gobi desert.  A story of powerlessness, Chang’s statement has more to do with the function of art as a vehicle for mourning the present than its imagined role in making things better in the future.  As a counterpart to the image we opened with of Noah’s Ark grounded upon the rock of Mount Ararat, the exhibit ends with the hard place of an emblematic photograph by Chang of another beached boat as she hopelessly scrubs its barnacled hull.

Checklist
Books in the Exhibition arranged by publication year:

Burnett, Thomas. The Theory of the Earth: containing an account of the original of the Earth, and of all the general changes which it hath already undergone or is to undergo till the Consummation of all things. Third Edition. – London: R.N., 1697. Loaned from the collection of Prof. Jill Schneiderman.

Cuvier, Jean Leopold Nicholas Frederick Cuvier, Baron. Essay on the Theory of the Earth with Mineralogical Notes and an Account of Cuvier’s Geological Discoveries by Professor Jameson, to added Observations on the Geology of North America. Illustrated by Samuel L. Mitchell. – New York: Kirk & Mercein, 1818. Loaned from the collection of Prof. Jill Schneiderman.

Shattuck, GeorgeBurbank. Geological Rambles Near Vassar College. -Poughkeepsie: The Vassar College Press, 1907. Loaned from the collection of Prof. Jill Schneiderman.

Stuart, Michelle. The Fall. – New York: Printed Matter, 1976.

Long, Richard. Aggie Weston’s. No. 16. – London: Coracle Press, 1979.

Long, Richard. Richard Long. – Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven, 1979.

Long, Richard. Postcards 1968-1982. — Paris: Union à Paris, 1984.

Long, Richard. Richard Long. – Fonds Regional d’Art Contemporain Aquitaine, 1985.

United States. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Five Artists at NOAA: A Casebook on Art in Public Places.— Seattle: Real Comet Press, 1985.

Long, Richard. Neanderthal Line, White Water Circle. — Dusseldorf: Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, 1994.

Long, Richard. Richard Long. — Dusseldorf: Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, 1994.

Long, Richard. Mountains and Waters. – New York: Braziller, 2001.

Johannessen, Kurt. Steinar. — Bergen: Zeth Forlag, 2002.

Turpin, Etienne. An Anarchist Introduction to the Anthropocene. – Brooklyn: Etienne Turpin, 2013.

EOS Earth Observatory Singapore. ART Projects 2010-2013: Six Art Projects Inspired by Earth Science. — Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, 2014.

Binyone, Rodger. MAGMA: Dynamo Conflagration No. 10. – Philadelphia, 2015.

Fusco, Maria. Master Rock. – London: Artangel, 2015.

Hartunian, Sibba. Mountains. – Sibba Hartunian, 2016.

Hartunian, Sibba. Volcanoes. – Sibba Hartunian, 2016.

Kriemann, Susanne. Duskdust. – Berling: Sternberg Press, 2016.

Martinovic, Jelena. Bold Climbers. – Lausanne: Cordyceps Press, 2016.

Stettner, Luke. History Database. – SPBH Editions, 2016.

Chang, Patty. Wandering Lake. – New York: Queens Museum, 2017.

Curated by Thomas E. Hill, Art Librarian

Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 2018.