For The New York Times Book Review, I write on Code Switch co-founding editor Kat Chow’s memoir of grief and family, immigration and ancestors. Guided by the work of scholars in Asian American studies who have developed a theory of “racial melancholia,” elaborating on Freud, Chow links her own life and species of grief to their explanation of how identities are formed in immigrant families who try to preserve the memory of the places they left — in a sense to taxidermy the past. Seeing Ghosts gives flesh to this theory, the idea that loss of country and loss of loved ones can hook us with similar perpetual sorrow, through storytelling that brings alive both Chow’s mother and father, drawing their characters tenderly but with unflinching honesty.
For The Nation, I write about Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s experiment with magical realism in The Undocumented Americans. She goes beyond conventional reportage to mirror the surreal ways in which the undocumented experience their lives. Her work exposes the unsustainable fiction built into the economic and political systems that invite the labor of the undocumented into the country but fail to protect them once here. The pandemic has only sharpened this structural fabulism.
To commemorate the late poet Meena Alexander’s life and legacy, Feminist Press has reissued her brilliant and gutting memoir Fault Lines. This new edition includes an afterword by me, “A House Filled with Women,” paying tribute to Meena. Here’s the Asian American Writers Workshop on the afterword and the reissue.
For The Nation, I write about about the Windrush scandal, the peril and the possibility documents hold for migrants and for scholars, and Hazel Carby’s “Imperial Intimacies,” a personal history of empire, race and so-called Britishness.
“The Windrush story—from the arrival of the first British Caribbeans to the piercing betrayals suffered by their descendants—goes to the existential heart of what it means to be British. David Lammy’s moment in Parliament pointed to the central dilemma for any descendant of Windrush in telling that story: It is a political one but also one inseparable from personal trauma. In her recent book Imperial Intimacies, Hazel Carby, a Windrush descendant, gives us both, narrating the struggle of black Britons to be accepted as British as well as the story of her own mixed-race family extending back to the 18th century. She frames her arguments as Lammy did, in the long arc of history that starts with the British slave trade and continues into the present. Wrestling with the ambiguities of her family history and the correct (as well as bearable) ways to use the personal, she forces us to rethink the very meaning of British identity, for both white and black Britons. One cannot understand British society today without understanding the role that racialization and empire have played in forming it.”
Racism served imperial capitalism well, and xenophobia serves neoliberalism and global plutocrats just as effectively. This Land Is Our Land is Suketu Mehta’s expression of rage at the cynical exploitation of inequality. In it, he makes debt his canvas, overlaying it with borders and borderlands that suggest what we owe migrants. Read my review of the book, with a nod to British artist Hew Locke’s artwork, at The New Republic.