This week, Maria Rubio recommends Troublemaker and Other Saints by Christina Chiu.
If asked to name a female Asian-American writer, most Americans would answer with Amy Tan or Maxine Hong-Kingston. These are the two names that have become staples in academic, literary, and mainstream circles. Enter now Christina Chiu, whose debut short story collection, Troublemaker and Other Saints, follows the mysteriously intertwined lives of three Chinese-American families.
Like many Americans, my exposure to female Asian-American writers had been limited to Tan and Hong-Kingston. However, as an Asian-American woman, I needed more; I ached to find characters that I could relate to, but in their writing I found narratives that were too far-removed from my own experiences. Whereas their Asian-American woman protagonists were quiet and submissive, I grew up boisterous and aggressive. There weren't many comparisons to draw between us which could result in support or understanding.
Immediately upon opening Troublemaker and Other Saints, it was clear that I'd found the kindred soul I've been looking for. Stories depicting suicidal melancholy, abortion, crime, and internet dating (amongst other sordid subjects) beckoned to me, filled me with recognition, and seamlessly wove into each other, creating a rich and believable tapestry of what it means to be Asian in contemporary America. Yes, there are passages about "the old country" which are filled with yesteryear's customs and beliefs, but more abundant are the raw glimpses into lives that I could relate to: the anorexic girl, the biracial couple, the gay couples who seek acceptance. These are contemporary storylines told in the Asian perspective, and they are exactly what make Christina Chiu a writer to watch.
Christina Chiu has been the recipient of the Van Lier Fellowship, the Lannon Foundation Fellowship and the Claire Woolrich Scholarship. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, The MacGuffin, and other magazines. She obtained a Bachelor degree in East Asian Studies at Bates College and a master's degree in fine arts at Columbia University. This collection, Troublemaker and Other Saints, was her master's thesis. Of the collection, several stories have received individual acclaim; "Troublemaker" won third place in the Playboy Fiction Contest, "Matriarch" won second place in the El Dorado Writers' Guild Writing Contest, and "Gentleman" won a prize in England's World Wide Writers Contest. Chiu is a cofounder of the Asian American Writers Workshop. She lives in New York, and is at work on her first novel.