After ‘The Woman Warrior’: Representations of Intergenerational Tensions

In 1976, Maxine Hong Kingston paved the way for material about relationships within Asian American families. Here are nine recent literary, film, and TV perspectives.

intergenerational tensions
Alta

Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior is a vivid memoir of how one woman was formed by the stories her mother tells her. We, the readers, develop an image of both women and their relationship through these stories. The book—which the California Book Club will discuss on October 21 at our monthly gathering—broke new ground in its intimate, unexpected portrayal of two generations of Asian American womanhood and immigrant experience.

The following nine recent titles to read or watch also explore parent-child relationships in Asian American families.

Please be sure to sign up for our free, monthly California Book Club, which will discuss The Woman Warrior with Maxine Hong Kingston on October 21 at 5 p.m. Pacific. To join the California Book Club, click here. Join us in the Clubhouse to discuss the book.

1 CRYING IN H MART (2021)
crying in h mart, michelle zaunder
Knopf

Japanese Breakfast singer Michelle Zauner wrote Crying in H Mart in the aftermath of her mother’s death, first as an essay in the New Yorker and later as a memoir published by Knopf. “When I was growing up, with a Caucasian father and a Korean mother, my mom was my access point for our Korean heritage,” she writes. Her book details growing up as one of the only Asian American students at her suburban Oregon high school and shifting away from her Korean identity as she enters adulthood. However, her mother’s cancer diagnosis catalyzes a reconnection with her family and identity, often inspired by food.

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2 MINARI (2021)
minari
A24 FILMS

In this A24 film, after a small Korean American family relocates to the Ozarks in Arkansas, its dynamic is dramatically altered by the arrival of the children’s grandmother. She shares a room with her grandson, David, who initially rejects her for not fitting his expectations of a grandmother. But as the family faces an intense health crisis, David and his grandmother form a close bond.

WATCH THE MOVIE

3 NEVER HAVE I EVER (2020)
never have i ever
NETFLIX

After her father dies, 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) longs for a sense of normalcy and for her thoughts to be consumed by boys, friends, and school. At the same time, Devi is renegotiating her fraught relationship with her mother and her Indian identity. John McEnroe provides entertaining voice-over narration. The Netflix series, created by Mindy Kaling and renewed for a third season, has been applauded for its representation of South Asian American adolescence and its nuanced depiction of a mother-daughter relationship.

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4 HOW MUCH OF THESE HILLS IS GOLD (2020)
how much of these hills is gold, c pam zhang
Riverhead Books

In this stunning novel, two children of immigrants search for belonging and closure in an unknown place. After both their parents die, orphans Lucy and Sam embark on a trip across a fairy-tale West with their father’s body in tow, determined to give him a proper burial. His decaying corpse serves as a concrete reminder of death and duty. C Pam Zhang, the inaugural California Book Club author, weaves Chinese lore and symbolism as well as beautiful musings about land and history into their journey.

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5 ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS (2019)
on earth we're briefly gorgeous, ocean vuong
Penguin Press

Like The Woman Warrior, Ocean Vuong’s experimental debut novel dissects family history across oceans. Writing a confessional letter to his illiterate mother, Little Dog records his childhood, his mother’s mental illness, his family’s intergenerational violence in America and Vietnam, and his love affairs with young men. The book is both a coming-out and a becoming story peppered by family folklore. It calls to mind Kingston’s blending of memory and legend.

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6 THE FAREWELL (2019)
the farewell
A24 FILMS

In this film based on the real-life experience of the writer and director, Lulu Wang, Chinese American writer Billi (Awkwafina) finds out that her parents are keeping her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis a secret from her grandmother. Billi flies from New York to Changchun for a wedding that has been redesigned as a last family reunion. There, she must say goodbye to her grandmother while keeping a huge secret from her.

WATCH THE MOVIE

7 GOOD TALK: A MEMOIR IN CONVERSATION (2019)
good talk, mira jacob
One World

Mira Jacob’s heartfelt graphic memoir is inspired by conversations between her and her half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z. His questions move from innocent to difficult and complex in the context of the 2016 election, prompting Jacob to evaluate where she found answers to these same questions at his age. Is parenting for South Asian Americans different now from the way it was decades ago? Jacob tenderly renders parenting and race in complicated social and political times.

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8 ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW (2018)
all you can ever know, nicole chung
Catapult

When Nicole Chung found out she was pregnant with her first child, she realized she had unanswered questions about her birth parents in Korea. Her profound memoir about transracial adoption movingly explores what it was like to be Asian American and raised by white parents in a white neighborhood. It tracks her reconnection with her birth parents as she reunites with her birth sister and prepares for motherhood herself. She comes to terms with a complicated family history.

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9 CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)
crazy rich asians
Color Force

Many Asian Americans celebrated this romantic comedy for its all-Asian cast and its Asian American lead after a long desert of limited representation in mainstream Hollywood movies. Nick Young (Henry Golding) and Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) head to Singapore for a wedding and to meet Nick’s fabulously wealthy family. Nick’s family ostracizes Rachel and makes her feel unwelcome. Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), is especially critical of Rachel and her son’s relationship. Rachel navigates family history and cultural context as she seeks the respect of her future mother-in-law.

WATCH THE MOVIE

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