Asian Pacific Voices Find a US Audience ; in Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Some New and Notable Books

Article excerpt

The breakthrough in Asian Pacific American literature came in 1976 with Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Woman Warrior," an award- winning memoir about growing up as a Chinese-American in a predominantly white world. Before then, the voices of writers of Asian Pacific descent were little heard in the mainstream US literature.

But since then, the genre has gone from strength to strength. Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club" was a mega-hit in 1989. Ha Jin won a National Book Award for "Waiting" in 1999 and Cynthia Kadohata received a Newbery for "Kira-Kira" in 2004 to name but a few.

Here, in recognition of the celebration in May of Asian Pacific Heritage month, are a handful of the more promising titles thus far in 2006:

Adult fiction

Color of the SeaBy John Hideyo Hamamura Thomas Dunne Books, 306 pp., $24.95

Sam Hamada, US-born but raised in Japan, joins his father at age 9 for a life of hard labor in Hawaii. He is apprenticed to an eccentric older Japanese man who gives him strength to survive death, separation, broken promises and war. As a Japanese American, he becomes an invaluable asset to his homeland during World War II, even as he struggles to make peace with the duality of his heritage.

Queen of Tears By Chris McKinneySoho Press, 314 pp., $23

Once Korea's greatest movie star - dubbed the Queen of Tears for her ability to cry convincingly on film - Soong Nan Lee arrives in Hawaii to face her three adult children. When the whole family opens a restaurant together, complications arise among the generations, with tragic results.

Non-fiction

Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and AbroadBy Robert Asahina Gotham Books/Penguin, 339 pp., $27.50

With their loved ones incarcerated behind barbed wire in internment camps, the segregated, all-Japanese American 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most decorated unit in US military history. Not until 2000 would the surviving soldiers receive the overdue Congressional Medal of Honor. Asahina adds further immediacy by using contemporary examples of blind racism in a post-9/11 world.

part asian * 100% hapaPortraits by Kip Fulbeck, foreword by Sean Lennon, afterword by Paul Spickard Chronicle Books, 264 pp., $19.95

"hapa (hae'pae) adj. 1. Slang. of mixed racial heritage with partial roots in Asian and/or Pacific Islander ancestry. …