Asian Pacific voices find a US audience

In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, some new and notable books.

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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:

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Adult fiction

Color of the Sea
By 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 McKinney
Soho 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 Abroad
By 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% hapa
Portraits by Kip Fulbeck, foreword by Sean Lennon, afterword by Paul Spickard
Chronicle Books, 264 pp., $19.95

"hapa (hä'pä) adj. 1. Slang. of mixed racial heritage with partial roots in Asian and/or Pacific Islander ancestry. n. 2. Slang. a person of such ancestry. [der./Hawaiian: Hapa Haole (half white)]" Thus opens Fulbeck's fabulous compilation of hapas who each answer for themselves the too-often-asked question, "What are you?"

Young adult (Ages 8-16)

Ask Me No Questions
By Marina Budhos
Atheneum, 162 pp., $16.95

A Bangladeshi immigrant family heads to Canada in search of asylum. When the father is inexplicably arrested at the border, the two daughters return alone to New York, where friends and family are disappearing without explanation. Budhos hauntingly depicts a post-9/11 world where looking like the enemy can seem a crime.

Wait for Me: A Novel
By An Na
Putnam, 240 pp., $15.99

Mina is the perfect daughter for her overbearing Korean immigrant mother: she has her mother convinced that she is the Harvard-bound, National Honor Society president-to-be. As Mina's lying facade cracks irreparably, she plans her uneasy escape. An Na's Michael L. Printz Award follow-up is as powerful as her debut.

Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference
By Joanne Oppenheim
Scholastic, 288 pp., $22.99

Clara Breed, a children's librarian at the San Diego Public Library, was a staunch ally to Japanese American students who were treated as enemies in their homeland. Through a legacy of letters, gifts, and books, Miss Breed remained loyal to 'her children.'

For the youngest (Ages 7 and under)

Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel
By Anthony Robles, illustrated by Carl Angel, Tagalog translation by Eloisa D. de Jesus
Children's Book Press, 32 pp., $16.95

Makibaka means struggle - the struggle of Filipino Americans who survived great hardships to become Americans. Young Lakas inspires the inhabitants of the Makibaka Hotel to fight the building owner's attempts to force the tenants from their home.

My Mei Mei
By Ed Young
Philomel Books, 40 pp., $16.99

Drawing from his own experience of adopting two Chinese daughters, Caldecott Medalist Ed Young tells the story of older Antonia's longing for a Mei Mei, a younger sister, the trip to China to adopt her, and the life the siblings create with one another as they bond.

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