Why everyone should read this book
I’ve never been the biggest fan of graphic novels, but a while back I picked up a bilingual copy of Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, and I’ve been totally enamored with it ever since.
Why learners of Chinese should pick it up
The bilingual version is obviously great for learners, especially since the panels are in Chinese and the English is at the bottom of the page. This makes it easy to cover up the English—I always have trouble a bilingual book when the two languages are side-by-side because I find my eyes always being drawn to the more familiar script. The language is relatively straightforward and a reader at an intermediate level could get through it with relatively little reliance on a dictionary.
Why everyone should pick it up
The story itself is brilliant and engaging, and as a piece of literature it’s an example of the power of the graphic novel genre. But, more importantly, it asks readers to think about complex issues that affect so many people: race, identity, ethnicity, language, fitting in, transformation, origins. By exploring the ABC (American Born Chinese) label, the story asks us to examine our own understanding of what it means to “be” a certain race or ethnicity and “be from” a certain geographical place. What does heritage mean? What is the role of ancestry? What is a birthplace? What is a hybrid culture—does that even exist?
I’m still thinking about my own answer to those questions, and American Born Chinese has added a lot to my thoughts. My favourite place has lots of copies, so whether you’d like to read it in Chinese and English—or both—go pick it up!