cover image The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting in

The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting in

Paisley Rekdal. Pantheon Books, $22 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40937-0

The final essay in this unfocused collection recounts Rekdal's search for evidence of a Chinese community that had settled in Natchez, Miss., in the early 1900s; her great-aunt was a member. At the visitor's center in Natchez, she is told there was no such community. The attendant explains, ""There's just us. Just Natchez. EveryoneDblacks, white, Chinese, we're all in here together."" Rekdal, the daughter of a Chinese-American mother and an American father of ""Norwegian stock,"" is attracted to the inclusiveness implied in the Natchezian's statement, but finds it difficult to believe. Traveling through America, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and China, she continually confronts the difficulty of negotiating her biracial identity and the hard truth that she ""cannot choose one identity without losing half of [her]self."" A poet (her first collection, A Crash of Rhinos, is forthcoming), Rekdal writes with a sure hand, though she stretches her broad subtitle to encompass travel sketches, childhood memories and meditations on sharks and BB guns. The essays are further diffused by her technique of continuously moving between past and present (her excursion to Taiwan, for example, serves almost entirely as backdrop for thoughts of her boyfriend in America). Perhaps the difficulty of Rekdal's position prevents her from seeing what could have been her focus. When trying to explain to the Japanese family she stays with that she is half-Chinese, she is sternly rebuked with ""I am sorry, but you are American"": what it means to be American is the insistent, unanswerable question that dogs Rekdal wherever she goes. Agent, Leigh Feldman, Darshanoff & Verrill Literary Agency. (Oct.)