East and West
of Two Immigrant Novelists: Amy Tan and Miri Yû
of East Asian Language & Cultures, Columbia University
March 30 - April 1, 2001
general, the event of immigration involves many elements that provide
excellent material for novel-writing. Usually, these might include difficulties
in the home-country's political or cultural milieu and the often arduous
journey involved in escaping from them; the initial contact with the
alternative world and the cultural conflicts that arise during the acquisition
of a new language; the fading out of the original culture by the second
generation and intergenerational conflict. These elements are powerful
enough to build characters and drive stories. In addition, from the
view point of a member of a minority group, immigrant literature puts
the spotlight on the particular tendencies toward social diversity of
the society out of which it evolves.
this presentation I will compare two novelists of today: Amy Tan of
Chinese American background and Miri Yû, a Korean Resident in
Japan. Through close examination of their work, I will initiate a discussion
about theoretical analysis of immigrant literature in general. First,
I would like to focus on the distinct styles of these two novelists.
They would appear at first glance to have totally different approaches.
Tan maintains a moderate value system consistent with that of middle-class
America, while Yû describes the double-standards of Japanese society
in an aggressive writing style that includes scenes of explicit violence
and sexuality. Their parents, too, had completely different immigration
experiences. Tan's parents chose to flee from the danger of Chinese
civil war and to emigrate to the "free world," while Yû's parents
were forced to move to Japan by the Japanese military during the colonization
of the Korean Peninsula. Even after Korean independence, they could
not return home because of their complicated family situations and considerations
of employment. However, I would like to suggest that they do share many
qualities as immigrant writers.
second point I would like to raise for discussion, is how the two writers'
works reflect the diversity of the two societies. Although the US and
Japan would seem to have totally different policies about immigration
– acceptance and appreciation in the US and hesitation and discrimination
in Japan – Tan and Yû's works reveal rather unexpected tendencies
in the two societies. Tan's novels highlight America's struggle to maintain
an accepting stance toward immigration, while Yû's stories expose
the strong desire in the Japanese people for a diversity that has never
been realized even after their economic success.
I would like to open up the discussion so that we might place these
novelists within a more general theoretical comparison of various immigrant
Maeda, graduate student of Columbia University (Japanese Pedagogy),
currently teaches at Princeton Community Japanese Language School. He
has developed a challenging curriculum for the student with advanced
level proficiency and bilingual background. He is interested in establishing
a theoretical teaching method for the advanced level student through
close analysis of texts from bicultural viewpoint. His interest in biculturalism
is not limited to literature but includes analysis ofbusiness societies.
After 10 years' experience in the Japanese publishing industry, he spent
4 years as a corporate executive in a multinational language service
company before starting his academic career. He also writes literary
criticism and his latest work "Princeton and Jun Eto" was nominated
as a finalist for the 2000 Shincho New Comer Award.