The debut book by an award-winning magazine writer offers his perceptive, personal view of the lives of Asian-Americans and other subjects.
For this collection, National Magazine Award–winning essayist Yang, a columnist at Tablet, uses a title that nods to The Souls of Black Folk, the 1903 classic by W.E.B. Du Bois, which introduced the concept of the "double consciousness" of people of color in America. Several of the essays, which appeared in New York Magazine, the Guardian, Harper’s, n+1, and other publications over the last decade or so, do focus on the experiences of Asian-Americans. "The Face of Seung-Hui Cho" is the author’s visceral but insightful response to being assigned to write about the Virginia Tech mass killer, fueled by his resentment that the assignment came because he, like the shooter, is Korean-American. "Paper Tigers" is an acerbic, well-documented response to Amy Chua's bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which Yang points out that traditional Asian approaches to education often bring astonishingly high performances by students, but those scores and grades rarely translate into success in the highest (whitest) echelons of corporations. In "Eddie Huang Against the World,” the author paints a telling portrait of the rock-star chef's struggles when his memoir Fresh Off the Boat became a TV series that be believed was filled with stereotypes. The other essays, though, range across such subjects as the "pickup artist" craze, the anxieties of dating and sex in the digital age, and profiles of hacker/activist Aaron Swartz and historian Tony Judt. Three briefer and more recent essays in the final section return to the subject of racism, especially the recent resurgence of white supremacists, but they are more abstract, and less powerful, than the earlier pieces.
An uneven collection of essays that ranges from fresh analyses of the lives of Asian-Americans to smart commentaries on pop-culture phenomena but doesn't cohere around a single subject or theme.