cover image Chinese Prodigal: A Memoir in Eight Arguments

Chinese Prodigal: A Memoir in Eight Arguments

David Shih. Atlantic Monthly, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5899-4

University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire English professor Shih presents a raw, moving debut memoir about his complicated relationship with his father and his Asian American identity. Shih, whose family moved to the U.S. from Hong Kong in 1971, lost his father, a traveling salesman, in 2019. Though he knew his father was gravely ill, Shih didn’t travel to Texas to see him before he died. Though he acknowledges that the “easy answer, which is not entirely inaccurate, is that I was self-absorbed and uncaring,” Shih sifts through his past and links his delay to other, more complicated causes, loosely organized into the “eight arguments” of the title. His status as an immigrant who left China when he was just one year old created tensions between his twin ethnic identities; Shih writes that he “mastered English at the expense of Chinese, and not only stopped needing my parents’ guidance in grade school but actively began to distrust it.” Elsewhere, he reflects on episodes of racial violence aimed at Chinese Americans that have occurred in his lifetime and the notion that Asians have unfair advantages in accessing higher education (which he disputes). It amounts to a thoughtful meditation on the gap between the promise the American dream dangles in front of minorities and the realities of their discriminatory treatment. Agent: Laura Usselman, Stuart Krichevsky Literary. (Aug.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misnamed the author's academic institution.