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The David Gilmour Book Club
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The David Gilmour Book Club

By 49thShelf
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This list has been kindly shared by its creator at http://dgbookclub.wordpress.com, who writes: David Gilmour is a Canadian author and lecturer at the University of Toronto. As you may have heard, he doesn’t seem to like fiction written by women, Canadians, or the Chinese. As a Chinese-Canadian woman writer, I don’t like David Gilmour. Inspired by his diverse and generous spirit, I researched this list of Canadian women writers of East/Southeast Asian descent. I had originally intended for it to be a list of Chinese-Canadian women novelists, but there are shockingly/depressingly few of those, and I had to broaden the scope considerably in order to come up with the respectable number of 52 – a year’s worth of reading. The works below range from poetry to short story collections to novels, and they differ widely in tone, content, and intended audience. Where I was familiar with an author, I chose my favourite work of hers. Where I wasn’t familiar with an author, I chose what appeared to be her most prominent (or in many cases, only) work. I have liked some of those I’ve read and not others, but I make no representations about the quality of any of them – obviously, caveat emptor. I hope that this list is helpful when you are a)searching for ways in your life to be less like David Gilmour and more like someone who is not an asshole, and/or b)you are looking to read some fiction that is not written by a contemplative white person about some other contemplative white people. Enjoy.
Tulpa

Tulpa

edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian

In Buddhist mysticism, a 'tulpa' is a magical entity created by intensely concentrated thought. In other words, a perfect metaphor for a book of poetry. Tulpa, Louise Bak's second Coach House book, continues her challenging exploration of a broad range of themes: popular culture, the sex trade, the role of Asian and Asian-Canadian women in culture, and her father's death. It's a stirring and always provocative collection that combines a visual artist's flair for colour with a performance artist' …

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Midnight At the Dragon Cafe

Midnight At the Dragon Cafe

edition:Paperback
tagged : literary

Set in the 1960s, Judy Fong Bates’s much-talked-about debut novel is the story of a young girl, the daughter of a small Ontario town’s solitary Chinese family, whose life is changed over the course of one summer when she learns the burden of secrets. Through Su-Jen’s eyes, the hard life behind the scenes at the Dragon Café unfolds. As Su-Jen’s father works continually for a better future, her mother, a beautiful but embittered woman, settles uneasily into their new life. Su-Jen feels th …

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Excerpt

I HAVE KEPT ONLY three possessions from my childhood. Each one is a book. The first is a coil-bound sketch pad with a cover made of heavy cardboard, a muted olive green. The pages are filled with drawings – of trees and flowers, of animals and soft nudes, but also of fantastic creatures, some beautiful, some hideous, entwined and growing out of one another, out of eyes, bellies, tongues, mouths. As a child I found the drawings magical, yet they unsettled me, pulling me into a world I did not understand. When I look at them now, many years later, they disturb me in a different way; I am left feeling hollow and haunted.

The other two books are from China, handwritten with red cloth covers, bound with red string. One book is thick with pages of line drawings of Buddha­shaped faces, dotted with moles. A mole in a certain place on a cheek might be lucky, my mother once told me, but in the same place on the other cheek could spell a life of tragedy and pain. In the rows of faces, the noses, eyes, lips, and ears are drawn in different shapes. Long, fleshy earlobes mean longevity and wealth; thin lips mean poverty. Whenever Chinese visitors came to our restaurant, I would catch my mother secretly studying their faces. Once, there was a Chinese man who passed through our town and had supper with us. He kept trying to engage my mother in conversation, but she took an instant dislike to him. Afterwards she said, “Syah how, sei gnun, that’s what he is. A serpent head with dung­filled eyes.” His narrow eyes were shaped in an evil way, she told me, a bad person, not to be trusted. Later we found out the man was a notorious gambler and womanizer in Chinatown in Toronto. Sometimes her face readings were more direct. “That man, he has ears that are too small and thin. No matter how hard he works, he won’t amount to anything.” She once said to me about my grown­up brother, “The shape of his face and nose are strong. He will eventually be rich, but he will always have to work hard. His mouth is too full. He wants so much, yet nothing in the first half of his life will be easy.”

The second book from China, though it looks similar on the outside, holds other secrets. It holds the story of my life, my destiny. Before leaving Hong Kong, my mother took me to a fortune teller to have my I Ching read and my fate revealed. I have no memory of what the fortune teller looked like, only of watching his long, slender hands lay out narrow sticks of different lengths. The smell of incense had filled the air. My mother paid a handsome price for the book. Each page was filled with black hand­brushed characters, on the front was a single column of elegant black calligraphy. The characters held such power and mystery, all the more so because I could not read them. When I touch the pages, I can almost sense the heat of the fortune teller’s hand moving down the rice paper with the bamboo­handled brush in his fingers. As a child, I often found myself with the book upside down, turning the pages backwards; I had to remind myself to open it left to right, opposite to the way I opened books at school.

Whenever I asked my mother what was written inside, she seemed to hesitate. Her unwillingness made me uneasy. She told me that I would live in more than one country. She told me that until the age of thirteen, water would be my danger sign, that I was never to trust it. I would beg her for greater details about my future, but she would only shake her head and say there was nothing else in the book that mattered.

****
1957

Several months before my mother and I came to Canada, my father, Hing-Wun Chou, and his oldest friend, Doon­Yat Lim, bought the Dragon Café in the town of Irvine, not far from Toronto. They considered it a good buy, as it was already a Chinese restaurant, with woks in the kitchen and a rectangular sign with gold Chinese-style script above the front window. But most important for them, an enterprise in a town the size of Irvine cost less money than one in a bigger place. At the time I didn’t realize that my father’s business was typical of so many Chinese restaurants in small towns across Canada, often known as the local greasy spoon, every one of them a lonely family business isolated from the community it served.

While my mother and I were still in Hong Kong, we visited a tailor; he made each of us a woollen coat and several cotton dresses. But for my mother he also made a dark green travelling suit and a beautiful rose-coloured cheongsam. She packed our new clothes in a large brown leather suitcase, smoothing them carefully around bolts of material, folded sweaters, packages of medicinal herbs, small gifts for family, and our few personal belongings.

As I stood beside her in a long line to board the airplane, it was hard to believe that the beautiful woman in the lo fon – style suit and black high­heeled shoes was my mother. Until then, I had only seen her in cotton pyjama suits that fastened up the side or a light dress with a loose skirt. She had told me that we were going to a country called Gun-ah-dye, a land that was cold and covered with snow, a place where lo fons lived, a place where only English was spoken. She had pointed them out to me in the streets of Hong Kong. “They don’t speak Chinese,” she had said. “But soon you will learn English, and talk just like the lo fons. I am too old to learn, but you, Su­Jen, you will be just like them.” I wondered what English sounded like. I didn’t understand why it would be easy for me but difficult for my mother.

In the weeks before we left, she didn’t seem excited about going to this new place, yet she took care to show me how to print the letters of the English alphabet, combining circles and sticks and half­circles. I traced the letters on the window of the airplane and remembered what she had told me about the missionaries, that when she was a child, they had taught her how to write the ABC’s but not to read the words.

Whenever I looked out I saw clouds above and below and wondered if we were really moving through the sky. It seemed that our journey would never end.

My mother said that we were lucky my father already lived in Canada, otherwise the Communists would never have allowed us to leave China. She said that we were going to Canada because of me. There I would have a better life, I could go to school and our family would be together. But I knew if she had her way we would stay in China despite her fear of the Communists. When­ever I asked my mother who the Communists were, she was unable to explain in a way I understood; I only knew that in Canada, we would be safe from them.

The only thing about Canada that my mother seemed to look forward to was reuniting with Aunt Hai­Lan, her mother’s youngest sister. Before the war, Hai-Lan had married Uncle Jong, who was from my father’s village in Hoi Ping County. They had two sons before Jong returned to Canada. When the Japanese attacked, she and the other villagers fled and hid in the hills. My mother told me that she and Hai­Lan and Hai-Lan’s sons were the only ones in her family who had survived the war. When it was over, they had found each other, and Hai-Lan had taken her in and cared for her. When my father returned to the village from Canada, she introduced him to my mother, and then left for Canada herself soon after my parents were married.

I stayed close to my mother after the airplane landed in Toronto, fearful of being lost in this crowd of strangers. We stood in a long line and waited for a lo fon man in a dark uniform to look at some papers that my mother thrust at him. She seemed nervous, even when the man smiled at me. The man finally gave back her papers and my mother quickly grabbed my hand and followed the crowd into another room. She was busy struggling with our bags when I saw a man and a woman rush toward us. They were a funny-looking couple – he was short and round while she was tall and thin with a head full of tight black curls. My mother looked up from her bags and held out her arms toward Aunt Hai-­Lan. They embraced each other, laughing and crying at the same time. Afterwards Aunt Hai-Lan bent down and pressed me to her chest, speaking in our Four Counties dialect. Uncle Jong smiled and told me how grown up I looked for a six-year­old. He picked up our large brown suitcase, while Aunt Hai­Lan took the smaller one, chattering and hugging my mother with one arm. We walked through a large bluish­green room with narrow wooden benches. I saw a lo fon man pushing a broom and some lo fon women working behind a counter.

There were many lo fon men and women outside the building, waving and shouting in their strange language, some of them getting into cars lined along the road. My cheeks tingled with the cold. Uncle Jong led us to a taxi and spoke easily in English to the driver. I sat in the back seat, squeezed between my mother and her aunt; I leaned against my mother’s arm. When I peeked up at the window, I saw only darkness.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Three Souls

Three Souls

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback

Leiyin has to make a choice: Should she save her only child or forever relinquish her own afterlife?

Civil war China is fractured by social and political change. Behind the magnificent gates of the Song family estate, however, none of this upheaval has touched Leiyin, a spoiled and idealistic teenager. But when Leiyin meets the captivating left-wing poet Hanchin, she defies her father and learns a harsh reality: that her father has the power to dictate her fate. Leiyin’s punishment for disobedi …

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Chinese Knot, The

Chinese Knot, The

edition:Paperback
tagged : literary

Award-winning author Lien Chao weaves together these emotionally charged short stories focusing on Chinese immigrants in Toronto's multiracial neighbourhoods.

In a public playground Wei Ming finds herself strangely alone, but she takes an unusual step when she observes the prejudices at work among the parents and children; middle-ages and divorced, Katherine mulls over the possibilities of spending a loney life and marrying a stable and safe Chinese suitor whose food tastes are from a different …

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Ingratitude

Ingratitude

by Ying Chen
translated by Carol Volk
edition:Paperback
tagged : literary

"...a striking self-portrait of a creative and fiercely independent young woman who would rather die a notable death than conform to the culture of obedience epitomized by her mother." -- The New York Times Book Review

"In the end, Yan-Zi seems weak, a tiresome, immature complainer, and -- as the book's title suggests -- ungrateful. A more fully developed central character might leave us wondering about her choice of escape and understanding her pain. Instead, readers are left only with her ingra …

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Belinda's Rings

Belinda's Rings

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

Half-Asian teenager Grace (but she’d prefer it if you called her “Gray” instead) is not a perfect little supermom-in-the-making like her older sister Jessica, and would rather become a marine biologist than a mother—although she does understand how to take care of her peculiar kid brother Squid better than anyone else in her family. When her mother Belinda abruptly runs out on her family and flies across the Atlantic in order to study crop circles in the English countryside, Grace is lef …

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For Today I Am A Boy

For Today I Am A Boy

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged :

A stunning literary debut: Peter is the prized only boy in his Chinese-Canadian family. But inside, he knows he is a girl . . .

At birth, Peter Huang is given the Chinese name juan chaun, meaning powerful king. He is the exalted only son in a family of daughters, the one who will finally fulfill his father’s dreams of Western masculinity. But Peter has different dreams: he knows that he is a girl.

Peter and his sisters?elegant Adele, shrewd Helen and Bonnie the bon vivant?grow up in a house of …

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Chorus of Mushrooms

Chorus of Mushrooms

20th Anniversary Edition
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

"Hiromi Goto’s debut novel has become a Canadian classic. The winner of the 1995 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book Canada and Caribbean Region and co-winner of the Canada-Japan Book Award, it is a powerful narrative of three generations of Japanese Canadian women on the Canadian prairies.

Funny, scandalous, and melancholic all at once, this superlative narrative is filled with echoes and retellings, memories and Japanese folk tales. From The Tale of Genji to the Calgary Stampede …

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