Books by Jessica Hagedorn

TOXICOLOGY by Jessica Hagedorn
Released: April 18, 2011

"A peek into a peculiarly alluring world of art, fame and mortality."
Hagedorn's fifth (Dream Jungle, 2004, etc.) could be classified as archetypal literary fiction, all post-modern character study rather than a narrative carrying the reader to a happily-ever-after conclusion. Read full book review >
DREAM JUNGLE by Jessica Hagedorn
Released: Oct. 1, 2003

"Ambitious but disjointed and unevenly written: the parts just don't add up to a whole."
Hagedorn (The Gangster of Love, 1996, etc.) tries to capture the upheaval and chaos of 1970s Philippines by using disparate narrative styles. Read full book review >
THE GANGSTER OF LOVE by Jessica Hagedorn
Released: Aug. 27, 1996

Hagedorn's (The Dogeaters, 1990) episodic second novel seems to wander in a fog, as does the heroine who narrates most of this disjointed tale; she migrates in the 1970s with her mother and brother to the US from the Philippines, where she led a sheltered life as a Catholic schoolgirl. In the States, Raquel ``Rocky'' Rivers discovers her rock-and- roll self: She and her depressive brother, Voltaire, idolize Jimi Hendrix. While she scribbles pseudo-Beat poems, he wanders San Francisco's Tenderloin, where he meets aspiring rocker Elvis Chang. Rocky turns 18 and becomes Elvis's lover; they launch a band, The Gangster of Love, with Rocky on vocals. Despite embracing America's pop culture, though, Rocky still feels some loyalty to her overbearing mother Milagros, a spitfire who left her unfaithful husband back in the Philippines and who clings to her old world customs. A sexual prude despite her posturing, Rocky comes under the liberating influence of Keiko von Heller, an artist and free spirit who gradually becomes a pop celebrity. Moving to Los Angeles with the band, Rocky gets to spend time with her uncle Marlon, a gay actor with AIDS, who dreams of going home to die. The band eventually finds some modest success in New York, based on one briefly hot single. Rocky ends up working at a New Age clinic, still obsessing about her family. She eventually replaces the mercurial Elvis with Jake, a solid fellow who works as a recording engineer; they have a daughter, Venus. When Milagros, ``the queen of self pity,'' arrives in New York, she haunts the Imelda Marcos trial and harangues her daughter. Sudden shifts in voice and tense are jarring and ineffective, and the several dream sequences Hagedorn injects are expendable. A diffuse, sometimes frustrating, narrative of a young woman's coming of age in a strange land, with some compelling, if generic, scenes of cross-cultural misunderstanding. (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 14, 1993

A generous and varied sampling: 48 authors writing in a variety of styles, 22 selections previously unpublished and many others published only overseas or by journals or small presses—a substantial, often engrossing volume at a bargain price. Hagedorn has included traditionally structured fiction that directly addresses cultural experience: in ``Immigration Blues,'' by Bienvenido Santos, an ailing widower is approached by a Filipina who needs an American husband; the excerpt from Shawn Wong's novel- in-progress is a frank, cleareyed, often funny look at the cultural and racial subtext when two Asian-Americans have an affair; and several selections are outright family memoir or memoir-like. Some authors shatter myths of the ``model minority'' with stories of family violence, sexual transgression. There's also much experimentation here—usually focused on personal life rather than on culture and history: poetic meditation (notably, ``Afterbirth'' by Kimiko Hahn); a disturbing, self-conscious broken narrative from John Yau; an effective series of vignettes and incantatory passages by R. Zamora Linmark; the use of pidgin by Hawaiian writers Lois- Ann Yamanaka and Darell Lum. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, less aesthetically pleasing but extremely influential, uses fragmentation and exhortation to write of Korean politics (``Melpomene Tragedy''). Best-known contributors include Cynthia Kadohata, Maxine Hong Kingston, Bharati Mukherjee (all with previously published work) and Amy Tan (a touching outtake from The Kitchen God's Wife). If there's bias here, it's a slight tilt toward the Philippines and to writers from the vibrant Bay Area multicultural scene: varying quality but largely inclusive—though surely needing an update soon to include Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian- American voices. Read full book review >
Released: March 10, 1993

Overwritten collection of poems, stories, and essays from the Philippine-born Hagedorn (Dogeaters, 1990). Despite a keen eye and some powerful writing, these pieces, which focus mostly on the immigrant experience and its contrasts to life in the Philippines, seem like jaded rehashes of old material too hastily assembled. In a short story like ``The Blossoming of Bong Bong,'' for instance,—in which a recently arrived Filipino is so overcome by the strangeness of his new life in San Francisco that he has ``finally forgotten who he was''—as well as in the essay ``Homesick,'' the emotions evoked strain after effect and seem to come from the head rather than from the heart. A long short story, ``Pet Food''—wherein a young Filipino girl leaves her divorced mother and moves in to a San Francisco rooming house filled with larger-than-life types (drug-dealers, porno stars, and a notorious art columnist called ``Silver Daddy'') to write poetry but ends up as the lover of the crazed drug-dealer—has all the faded shock- value of an old 70's piece. In ``Homesick,'' Hagedorn writes also about the conflict she feels between English (the language of ``her oppressor'') and her native Tagalog (``used to address servants'' in the Philippines); in ``In Los Gabrieles,'' she describes life for expatriates in Spain, a country that has a ``penchant for melancholy exuberant sensuality, and anguish''; and in ``Carnal,'' she recalls a depressing visit to her ailing mother and old friends in San Francisco and notices the effects of change on people ``quiet in their madness as they swung from dusty chandeliers.'' The rest of the entries are indifferent workings-over of similar themes. Very slender, and, for the most part, very disappointing. Read full book review >