The Interethnic Imagination: Roots and Passages in Contemporary Asian American Fiction

The Interethnic Imagination: Roots and Passages in Contemporary Asian American Fiction

Oxford University Press
October 2009
216 pages
Hardback ISBN13: 9780195377361; ISBN10: 0195377362

Caroline Rody, Associate Professor of English
University of Virginia

In the wake of all that is changing in local and global cultures–in patterns of migration, settlement, labor, and communications–a radical interaction has taken place that, during the last quarter of the twentieth century, has shifted our understanding of ethnicity away from ‘ethnic in itself’ to ‘ethnic amidst a hybrid collective’.  In light of this, Caroline Rody proposes a new paradigm for understanding the changing terrain of contemporary fiction. She claims that what we have long read as ethnic literature is in the process of becoming ‘interethnic’.  Examining an extensive range of Asian American fictions, The Interethnic Imagination offers sustained readings of three especially compelling examples: Chang-rae Lee‘s ambivalent evocations of blackness, whiteness, Koreanness, and the multicultural crowd in Native Speaker; Gish Jen‘s comic engagement with Jewishness in Mona in the Promised Land; and the transnational imagination of Karen Tei Yamashita‘s Tropic of Orange.  Two shorter “interchapters” and an epilogue extend the thematics of creative “in-betweenness” across the book’s structure, elaborating crossover topics including Asian American fiction’s complex engagement with African American culture; the cross-ethnic adoption of Jewishness by Asian American writers; and the history of mixed-race Asian American fictional characters.


  • Examines three major yet under-studied contemporary Asian American novelists: Chang-rae Lee, Karen Tei Yamashita, and Gish Jen.
  • Considers major Asian American fiction alongside African American and Jewish American authors.
  • In lucid writing, provides a valuable and innovative paradigm for interpreting the burgeoning field of ethnic literature in the U.S.
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