8Books Review: Seeking Fortune Elsewhere by Sindya Bhanoo

Seeking Fortune Elsewhere is a delectable debut short story collection from Sindya Bhanoo. It opens with the story that won her the O. Henry Prize, “Malliga Homes.” Each story centers South Asian women and their families. Many focus on later stages of life and are threaded through with ghosts of the past, memories of what was, could or should have been, nostalgia, grief, regrets, joy.

I liked that many look at intergenerational family relations. A mother who is distant from her grown daughters. A couple living in a retirement community in India, while their children live and work on other continents. So too does it consider diaspora and immigration. A daughter witnessing the difference between her father’s life in America and her uncle’s life in India.

The stories unravel with great care, examining a spectrum of human emotions with bravery and delicacy. A mother’s unique response to a school shooting. A professor accused of exploiting his students. Each is a thoughtful, empathetic read.

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The Linda Lindas Tiny Desk Concert

Although today started out as a rainy, dreary Monday morning, this short 15 minute concert by the Linda Lindas, brought to you by NPR’s Tiny Desk program, really brightened my day.  I love their energy and musicality.  They all play instruments and in this concert, all take turns singing lead (despite playing  piano for years, I can’t effectively play and sing at the same time – amazing!) while they do yet another concert in a public library.  Although their band is exactly 1/2 Latina, I was pleasantly surprised to hear one song in Spanish.

The Linda Lindas recently debuted their first album called Growing Up, which has been released to good reviews like this one. A tour has been scheduled starting later this month.  The dates seems rather intermittent and sparse, but then again, these girls are still in high school!


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8Books Review: Let’s Do Everything and Nothing by Julia Kuo

Let’s Do Everything and Nothing is a lusciously illustrated children’s book by Julia Kuo about spending time with loved ones. It celebrates the big moments–like climbing a mountain–and the little ones–like quiet time at home. It features what I first assumed was a mother and daughter, but then realized could be an older and younger sister, an aunt and niece, cousins, the list goes on. From page to page, the two do everything together, enjoying each other’s presence. It’s a simple but important message.

Short and lyrical prose guides readers through, leaving ample room to enjoy the gorgeous drawings. Kuo also incorporated some lovely little elements of Chinese culture into some of the scenes, like the upside-down “fu” at home and the shrimp chips in the snack array.

Before I’d even had a chance to crack the spine, my mom had read this to my daughter, and when she finished, she said, “this is a good book.” And now that I’ve read it, I wholeheartedly agree. So at least from this house, Let’s Do Everything and Nothing has three generations of approval.

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8mm Review: ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ & SF Premiere Panel Discussion Footage

I had the honor and pleasure of attending the San Francisco premiere of Everything Everywhere All At Once on Sunday, March 20th at the historic Castro Theater with Q&A afterwards with cast members Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu, directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (“The Daniels”), and producer Jonathan Wang.

Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn Wang in this film with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 97%:

“When an interdimensional rupture unravels reality, an unlikely hero must channel her newfound powers to fight bizarre and bewildering dangers from the multiverse as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.”

To be honest, I’m not sure I understood what was going on all the time as there is a lot of interplay among different universes and the audio in the Castro Theater was not the best.

Continue reading

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8Books Review: New From Here by Kelly Yang

Kelly Yang’s latest book New From Here is a middle grade reader about a young boy and his family during the initial outbreak of the coronavirus. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been at this pandemic so long that there are now books reflecting on our experience — but after all, it has been two plus years of this. Yang’s book follows ten-year-old Knox. When COVID breaks out in Hong Kong, his family decides to move from there to California, where they hope they will be safer. But his dad has to stay in Hong Kong for work.

So Knox, his mom, older brother, and younger sister pack their bags on short notice and leave for California. Knox struggles to adjust to his new home (including having to share a room with his older brother), his new school (it’s hard to be the new kid and maybe he has ADHD?), and the stress of his mom losing her job (plus not having his dad around). Parts of the novel are heart-breaking, as Knox deals with all the usual 10-year-old stuff in addition to the uncertainties and anti-Asian racism of the COVID crisis. His new friend’s parents own a Chinese restaurant, which quickly sees a dip in business even before COVID cases reach the U.S. But through it, we get to see Knox and his family find ways to survive and thrive together (read the book for the sibs genius ideas for helping out aforementioned Chinese restaurant).

The book is reflective in part on the author’s family’s own experiences — coronavirus tag a “game” her children were subjected to is one of the challenges Knox and his friend face at school. New From Here thoughtfully navigates this difficult time, its uncertainty and in particular the anti-Asian racism. It’s also full of heart, showcasing growing sibling relations (the good, the bad, the ugly) and a boy and his family determined to get through a crisis together.

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A California Roadtrip through Asian American Women’s History

Mine Okubo, noted artist and illustrator and author of Citizen 13660

March is Women’s History Month, and a description of a roadtrip through California that covers important places of Asian American Women’s history caught my attention.  Even though I have lived in California for most of my life, I had only been to two places on the list of places to visit, and this piece is inspiration to see more them.  In the description of each stop on the trip, author Kaila Yu describes a woman who is a key part of Asian American history associated to the place.

Of the few places in the article that I have visited, Point Lobos near Carmel is one of the most beautiful.  I did go and see the Whaler’s Cabin and learn about the Quock Mui.  Quock Mui was the first Chinese American women born in the US.  Her parents came to Califonia on junks from China.  She was known for speaking 5 languages (was nicknamed “Spanish Mary”) and for facilitating communications between the groups in the 19th Century Monterey/Carmel area.

Little Tokyo, the other place on the list that I had been, has artwork in the Japanese American National Museum by Mine Okubo (pictured above) that would lead to her graphic novel Citizen 13660 (pictured to the right).  Mine Okubo’s story is both fascinating, sad, and inspiring. During internment, she had to have a special permit to leave her home in Berkeley in order to complete a mosaic project for the Servicemen’s Hospitality House (how ironic).

While a few of the women in the article I have heard of, like Anna May Wong, many are completely new to me.  Most of of the locations in the Afar article are far from major cities, which might excuse me for not visiting them, but some of them, like the Showgirl Magic Museum, which covers the Asian American nightclub culture of the mid 20th century San Francisco Chinatown, are in urban areas.  I definitely learned about Asian American History from the article and gathered some places for roadtrips in the future,.



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“Turning Red” has some People Turning Red (Minor Spoilers)

When I saw Turning Red on the day of it’s premiere, there are were a few aspects of it that I didn’t like, but I didn’t expect that the movie would generate much controversy.   It would seem to be generally well received, with 94% on the Tomatometer and an audience score of 73%  as of this writing.  I liked it a lot myself! This article from Vox goes over what some people dislike about it.  I can understand some of the complaints, but others I would say are unwarranted.  Some mild spoilers ahead.

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8Books Review: Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu is a deeply engrossing, occasionally disturbing collection of 12 short stories. While they don’t build on each other, each shares a bit of strangeness that gets at some fraction of human nature.

I had forgotten the way in which short stories as a form sweep you up and then–particularly in this collection–dump you out the other end a bit breathless, not quite ready to move on to the next.

Take for example, the very first story: “Pre-Simluation Consultation XF007867” about a conversation between someone and the operator of a simulator. The user wishes to be reunited with their dead mother, a protocol that’s not allowed because it’s too addicting an experience. The story wends through their conversation as they explore what is allowed and why, why and what the user hopes to experience with their mother. It’s a great opening gambit for the collection.

Other stories are darker in their premise like a husband and wife who occasionally kill each other because they own a machine that can reprint their spouse in a matter of hours, so long as they die quickly enough. Many offer twists and turns that look at some underbellies of human nature, when exposed to Fu’s sci-fi and fantasy laden — yet simultaneously very ordinary — worlds.

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Turning Red: US Limited Theatre Release

While we relayed the news that the Pixar Movie Turning Red will only be released in on Disney’s Disney+ streaming platform on March 11, it turns out that Turning Red will have a very limited one week theatrical release.  One theatre is the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland, California not far from Pixar’s Emeryville headquarters.  The other locations are in South California at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood and at the AMC Empire 25 in New York City.

It is said that Pixar staff was unhappy at the streaming only release of Turning Red, so I am glad that it will be released in a theatres where it can be seen on a big screen as intended.  Note that an opening in a theatre in one of six large metropolitan areas is needed with showings for at least seven consecutive days is needed for making a film eligible for Academy Award consideration.

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8Books Review: Muslim Picture Books by Hena Khan

One Sun and Countless Stars: A Muslim Book of Numbers and the board book version of Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, both by Hena Khan and illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini are bright, engaging books that celebrate Muslim practices and are fun to read. These books are a lovely way to feature and/or introduce Islam to children regardless of their faith.

In addition to their basic learning premises of colors and numbers, I appreciate how both focus on family, bringing in mention of mom, dad, grandma, grandpa. And they don’t shy away from Arabic words like suhoor and fanoos. While I hope some, like Eid and hajj are familiar to most, others will likely be unfamiliar to non-Muslim readers (as they were to me — more so in One Sun than in Golden Domes). But the pictures along with a helpful glossary and pronunciation guide in the back of both books make this a learning opportunity for kids and parents alike. The words themselves have a nice rhyming rhythm when you read them aloud, and for the board book, they don’t feel overwhelming long which can sometimes be the case when picture books get sized down. Also, on a minor note, the font is very fun!

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8Books Review: Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now

Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now is a monster of a book — both in that it is chock full of excellent content and that it literally weighs a ton (okay not a literal ton, but how is co-author Phil Yu holding it with just one hand). Written by an all-star team of journalist/critic Jeff Yang, Angry Asian Man Phil Yu and co-founder of Wong Fu Productions Philip Wang, Rise traverses decades of Asian American history, pop culture, books, movies, music, and more. Starting with BEFORE, Rise dedicates most of its pages to sections on the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, and then goes BEYOND.

And despite its textbook-like weight, it reads as anything but. The tone is super conversational, friendly, and often hilarious even when tackling less than hilarious topics like yellowface across the decades. And it’s beautifully designed to boot, filled with brightly colored illustrations, lists, round table conversations, pull-out spreads, graphic novel storytelling and more that keep the 450+ pages entertaining and lively. Plus the authors invited scores of other folks to add their voices: “We don’t claim to be the only observers of this journey, the most objective, or the most diverse. We’re three guys of East Asian descent, and two of us are named Phil. So we’ve reached out to many people to help tell this story.” To name a few: a conversation between Rosalind Chao, Ming-Na Wen, Lauren Tom, and Tamlyn Tomita (if I need to tell you who they are, you definitely need this book); playlists for each decade from Richie “Traktivist” Menchavez, and “Postcards from Asian America.”

Some of what’s covered I knew, some of it I lived through (why yes, I did have an AOL screen name with AZN in it, and it’s surreal to see it reflected back as a larger phenomenon), but tons of it was new to me. Growing up in white suburbia in the 90s meant I had limited access to the wider world for many reasons, not least of which was that the only TV I could watch was PBS. So there’s lots I missed — like Asian Avenue, which I was too young to have experienced, or the whole Fast and the Furious thing and how many Asian Americans have won reality television contests, which I can only really blame on oblivion — and lots I’ve come away from Rise wanting to know more about. But even for the things I remember living through, the YouTubers I remember gaining fame, the groundbreaking politicians I remember getting elected, it’s great to see it all together, and to have so many voices and stories included. I can’t even begin to cover the half of what’s in here. But you really come away with a sense of steps forward and steps backward, and how Asian America has built itself up on the shoulders of those who came before.

I appreciate how BEFORE offers a concise but pretty thorough jaunt through Asian American history 101 and much of what set the stage for the larger part of the book — including immigration history, where the term Asian America came from anyways, Vincent Chin, and Miss Saigon. And then comes the bulk of the book on the 90s, 00s, and 2010s. The co-authors’ each introduce a decade, sharing their own experiences while linking it to the larger context of major shifts and events in Asian America (Jeff for 90s, Phil for 00s and Philip for 10s). Next are entries like Founding Fathers and Mothers, the Asian American Syllabus of “must-consume media,” Undercover Asians, and the Asian American Yearbook that are repeated each decade, as well as decade-specific pieces like Wen Ho Lee, FAQs about Apu, and a conversation on Black and Asian. I loved the pull-out spreads illustrating different spaces — the Home, Asian Grocery Stores, Boba Shops, to name a few. Asian Grocery Stores’ feature #8 is “Bags of dried stuff: You have no idea what it is, and it smells like a dusty sock, but Grandma swears it will heal whatever ails you.” I mean, can you say, nailed it.

Rise is an homage to Asian America, its successes and its shortcomings, its diversity and complexity, its encounters with racism, haters, xenophobia, etc. I promise you will learn something new. And in all likelihood, you, like me, will leave with a list of books you want to read, movies you want to watch, music to listen to, and a warm fuzzy feeling for all Asian America has been, is, and will continue to be.

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8Books Review: Eyes that Speak to the Stars by Joanna Ho

Eyes that Speak to the Stars, by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Dung Ho, is the brilliant follow-up to Eyes that Kiss in the Corners. The book opens with a scene all too familiar to anyone who has grown up Asian American in the US. A young boy comes home from school hurt, because a classmate drew him a picture with “eyes like two lines stretched across his face”–not the round eyes that every other one of his classmates was drawn with. He tells his father, “But it didn’t look like me at all.” It’s a sad rite of passage that too many Asian American children have gone through, being made fun of the shape of their eyes. Sometimes in drawings, sometimes in that way that children (and sadly adults) pull on their eyes in a mockery of Asian eyes. Sometimes it’s intentional bullying, sometimes it’s stereotypes and a lack of awareness. Either way, it hurts, even if, as the young boy says, it never resembles us at all.

Eyes that Speak to the Stars takes that hurt and turns it into a beautiful message–how the young boy’s eyes are like his Baba’s, his Agong’s, his Didi’s, how magical and special they are, eyes that speak to the stars. It’s also a loving reflection on intergenerational relationships, how the boy is connected to his father, his grandfather, and then looking forward with hope, his love and connection to his baby brother.

Joanna Ho’s writing has a wonderful lyrical and cyclical quality to it, perfect for this kind of story book for children. And Dung Ho’s sweeping illustrations are imaginative, colorful, and filled with beautiful little details. I particularly love one showing Agong’s memories as he and his grandson play a game of Chinese chess. The two are seated at the center of the spread while around them swirls images from Agong’s life, including rice fields and a night market where vendors are selling mango milk and dumplings.

And if this doesn’t convince you to check it out, I loved Bookstagrammer Shuli’s (asianlitforkids) reflection:

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