Book club, exhibit to explore intersection of identity

by Michaela Ledoux | 1/5/14 11:06am

A diary held in a Hello Kitty lunch box washes onto an island shore. A Japanese-American novelist stumbles across it and becomes enthralled with the life of its 16-year-old Japanese author, presumably the victim of a recent natural disaster. As their two lives collide across time and the Pacific, readers of Ruth Ozeki’s most recent novel, “A Tale for the Time Being,” will find themselves engrossed in the author’s tour de force exploration of home and displacement.

These themes make the novel an understandable first choice for the newly-formed Asian-American Book Club, said Gavin Huang ’14, a member of the book club involved with the Office of Pluralism and Leadership.

“I think I relate to her in the sense that she feels alienated in a society that many believe would have accepted her,” he said. “It’s that sense of alienation growing up Chinese in the United States that I identified with.”

Aeriel Ashlee, OPAL’s assistant dean and advisor to Pan-Asian students, said the book club seeks to foster introspection among students of Pan-Asian, Asian-American and other backgrounds. She and English professor Aimee Bahng organized the club’s first meetings this term in response to what they saw as a gap in current Asian American Studies program offerings, she said.

Bahng said book club members will gain an added benefit when Ozeki visits campus this winter, likely in February.

“My hope is that readers of ‘A Tale for the Time Being’ might just feel for a moment one version of how Asian and Asian-American issues constitute part of all of our everyday experiences,” she wrote in an email. “Perhaps realizing our various connections to Asian-American experiences will inspire people at Dartmouth and beyond to learn more about what some of those experiences have been, the forces they’ve been shaped by and the insights they can offer.”

In coordination with the book club, Baker-Berry Library will display an exhibit of literature by Pan-Asian authors. English language and literature librarian Laura Braunstein organized the exhibit, opening today.

Ashlee said the club and variety of its programming will highlight Dartmouth’s resources and bring attention to Pan-Asian literature at the College. Bahng will lead a student book discussion on Jan. 15, and English professor Jeff Sharlet will lead a creative writing workshop for the club on Jan. 29.

Huang is a former member of The Dartmouth senior staff.