Completely missing the boat

In my ‘Look who’s morphing’ post, I mentioned that I was going to Tom Cho’s book launch at Hares and Hyenas. I wasn’t going to write up about it until I had finished the book—I’m about halfway at the moment—but David Messer has recently written up a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, one that yet again stereotypes ethnic writers:

Reading these parts of Look Who’s Morphing, one can’t help but feel that Cho could have written a much better book, although obviously a completely different one, if he had restricted himself to the question of Chinese/Australian identity and presented it in a more conventional tone and structure. (cited by Cho 23 May 2009)

Messer seems to have completely missed the boat. From my reading of his work so far, Cho’s Chinese background is coincidental. It gives texture to his stories, but does not define them in the same way that it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) define Cho as a writer. According to ‘The sound of music’, one out of two stories read out at the launch, identity is a ‘composite of the influences of various entities in our lives – family members, friends, lovers, certain people we watch on TV, characters we read in books, etc, etc’, a theme Messer might have picked up on if he wasn’t so busy measuring up Cho with his ethnic writer yardstick. Grr.

For more on Messer’s review and Tom Cho’s response, read Cho’s post, ‘Review of my book in the Sydney Morning Herald’. If ethnic writer stereotyping is new to you, I’d recommend reading Nam Le’s The Boat, which highlights and attempts to transcend the issue.

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2 thoughts on “Completely missing the boat

  1. My first thought when I saw this was: “yeah, because an ethnic writer is only allowed, and is only good at writing ethnic fiction.” Which I found Tom also wrote on his blog when I followed your link. Indeed a serious mismatch of review and book. Truly myopic.

    • It’s awful. The establishment’s only happy if Chinese writers write about Chinese people, Vietnamese writers write about Vietnamese people, etc.

      But then again, the same also applies to non-ethnic (i.e. white) writers. They don’t get away with writing about other cultures either. (Thinking about Aboriginal heritage here…)

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