By Noel Duan
With a cover depicting three women in skimpy outfits, the novel “China Dolls” by cousins Michelle Yu and Blossom Kan tells the story of attractive ladies seeking career success and true love against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.
They toil through unrequited love, sexism in the workplace and one too many cocktails in order to achieve their fairy-tale endings.
This isn’t another “Sex in the City,” though. There is a stark difference between the protagonists of Candace Bushnell’s series and the protagonists of Yu and Kan’s novel: the former’s characters are the stereotypical white “glamazons” and the latter’s characters are Asian American — and proud of it.
Yu and Kan are part of a growing trend of Asian American “chick lit” authors, and will be at the authors’ showcase Thursday at the AAJA Convention.
“When you walk into a bookstore, you see all types of books in the types of genre that we write that are catered towards African American women, Latina American women, but not Asian American women,” Yu said. “When we read books like ‘The Nanny Diaries’ or ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ we liked (them), but they didn’t really have a voice that spoke to us.”
“Chick lit” is a genre of contemporary fiction about stylish, attractive, and career-driven female protagonists dealing with issues that women face in the modern world – often with humorous plot twists and equally attractive men.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jeff Yang wrote about the decline of “chick lit” in a February 2007 “Asian Pop” column. There is a recent emergence of Asian American female writers who write about Asian American protagonists.
“If you’re an Asian American with heart, there will undoubtedly be a part of you in the characters, whether you’re writing about Asian Americans or not,” said Yang, who will also appear at the author’s showcase.
“You bring in a part of your own identity. There are so few Asian Americans in these professions, that we are expected – even if we don’t choose to, even if we are unable to – to represent the race. What we do reflects on everybody who looks like us, shares our heritage, and has similar last names,” Yang said.
As authors, Yu and Kan seek to create a chick lit voice that speaks to Asian American women in a post-“Joy Luck Club” era.
Yu is a sports reporter at SportsNet New York and a 10-year member of AAJA. Kan is a litigating attorney at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. They created characters inspired by their experiences. As co-authors, they brainstorm a concept and story together. Then, they sketch out the plot points and designate who will write which part.
Yu and Kan chose “China Dolls” as the title of their second book because it directly addresses the stereotype of Asian women: submissive, delicate, and fragile.
“Our goal was to break this stereotype and confront it by showing in our stories that real Asian women are anything but China dolls,” Kan said. “We believe the only way you can destroy a stereotype is by confronting it head-on, addressing it, and showing the world how far from reality it is.”
Another author, Darrien Gee, has written three books — “Good Things,” “Sweet Life,” and “Table Manners,” under the pen name of Mia King. Her novels do not have Asian American protagonists. In “Sweet Life,” the female protagonist, Marissa Price, is forced to confront the realities of her less-than-perfect life after a seemingly ideal move from Manhattan to Hawaii.
Yet, Gee is involved with the Asian American community. She spent part of her childhood in Hong Kong, took Chinese studies at Wellesley College, worked in Beijing for three years, and currently lives in Hawaii, surrounded by an expansive Asian Pacific American community. She expresses interest in writing a book with an Asian American protagonist someday – but only when it will feel natural.
“I don’t plan out my books,” she said, “ I’m not a writer that just writes what I know – I write wherever my story takes me.”
Yu and Kan are currently working on their third novel together, which will also be published by St. Martin’s Press.
“Regardless of what your ethnicity is, we all share common feelings, issues and challenges,” Yu said.