Friday, March 9, 2007

Generational Strife in a Foreign Land

I've just finished reading two positive reviews of The Namesake, which will be released in theaters this weekend. It intrigues me partly because I'm a fan of director Mira Nair (she directed Monsoon Wedding, which we saw twice in theaters and is primarily responsible for a brief Bollywood film stage Ickie and I enjoyed). I'm also intrigued because I read Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of short stories, Intepreter of Maladies. Each story is deliciously plaintive, concentrating on the crosscultural and relational struggles of its Indian and Indian-American characters.

I've read quite a few books by anglophone authors and always especially appreciate those that deal with the adjustments among generations of immigrant families in America. I had my own experience with culture shock when I lived overseas and returned home. As an ESL tutor in the States, I witnessed firsthand my Chinese student's confusion towards her teenage son. She and her husband just couldn't understand him or communicate with him, a fact made more complex by the fact that he had grown up as an American while his parents remained utterly Chinese.

Speaking of which, I'm also a big fan of Amy Tan. Her books are a bit pulpier and very female-centric, but they have tender, believably strained relationships, usually between a Chinese mother and Chinese-American daughter. Of her novels, my favorite is The Hundred Secret Senses, which focuses on two half sisters. (Tan can also tell a wicked ghost story, of which I'm a devotee.)

The struggle among generations is always a clash. We never seem prepared that our children will be growing up in a different world than our own. Even if three or four living generations have spent all their lives in the same town, our culture changes quickly enough to disconnect each generation. Moving to a new country and watching your children grow up without knowing your native language and retaining none of you native culture must be heart-rending. Everyone who moves away from the familiar and to a new and strange place makes sacrifices and hopefully gains something to account for those sacrifices. In most of these stories, the characters overcome their differences enough to recognize their love for one another, and that's why they are meaningful to me.

Recommended Reading: Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri; The Hundred Secret Senses, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Bonesetter's Daughter, and The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan; When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka.
Recommended Films: Eat Drink Man Woman, Monsoon Wedding, Bend It Like Beckham, Bride and Prejudice, In America.


Ickenham said...

The Recommended Films are and odd mix. The first two are great. "Bend it Like Beckham" and "Bride and Prejudice" are more like candy. I think Gurinder Chadha (who directed both of those latter films) is a bit of a hack, at least compared to Mira Nair.

I thought "In America" was just north of so-so.

Watoosa said...

I recommended those films more because they are about the topic than because I think they are the greatest films ever. That said, I do think Eat Drink Man Woman is excellent, and I think Bride & Prejudice is super fun.