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.
For the December 2020 issue of The New Republic, I write on caste, race and Isabel Wilkerson’s recent book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.
“By neglecting individualized Dalit experience, by skipping stories about the violence against lower castes in India, Wilkerson misses an opportunity to achieve a more radical goal: to build popular and more reciprocal solidarities on a global level––between the resistance movements against anti-Blackness here and casteism there, for one. Ironically, her approach embodies one aspect of the American exceptionalism she challenges: It centers the United States, using the world outside our borders mostly as reference point, as foil to show Americans that we are not better.”
For The New York Times Book Review, I consider poet Quyen Phan Que Mai’s debut in English, the novel “The Mountains Sing.”
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.