Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dr. 2 and the Worlds of Peter Tieryas Liu

Readers, meet Dr. 2
One of my favorite stories in Peter Tieryas Liu's Watering Heaven is called: "Rodenticide". It's about the small, predominantly Asian American town called Antarsia that is overrun by rats, has a corrupt mayor that calls for their extermination, and a call girl who befriends a failed filmmaker that decides to take it upon himself to defend the life of these rodents. This is a story, strangely enough, about oppression. Oppression through extermination.

The book itself opens with "Chronology of an Egg". This story is about a young Asian American game designer that meets Sarah Chao, who he soon discovers is cursed to lay an egg after intercourse:

"One of my ancestors burned down five henhouses and killed over twenty 
thousand chickens during the Opium Wars. The farmer who owned 
the land cursed him, and all the woman in our family have laid eggs since."

There is a story about a guru who can fly, stories about love, and many more about loss and being lost.

Peter Tieryas Liu is an awesome writer. Let me be more clear. Peter Tieryas Liu's writing is important.

Often, when Asian American literature is discussed, many times the conversation veers into the immigrant experience, or the complications of assimilation. These stories are important, yes, and they appeal to a wide variety of Asians, and Americans (and yes, Asian Americans). The success of writers like Amy Tan and Chang-Rae Lee show their universal appeal (which is not to say that there work are simply immigrant narratives - there's a lot going on there: read Native Speaker).

Joy Luck Club - amiright?! 
But the mistake would be to assume that the immigrant narrative, or assimilation narrative, is the sole narrative of the Asian American experience. There have been generations now, of Asian Americans on American soil, that have very different stories.

Some have been born here, some, like myself, have never even been to Asia (well, I was born there, but that was a little while ago). Some of their parents too have lived their whole lives here. Their parents too.

Regardless of their origins, these Asian Americans have watched The Godfather trilogy, eaten rice every other night, teared up when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Gehrig's record, have been obsessed with Star Wars and X-Men, and X-Box, and have been told terrifying Asian folktales by parents or overeager grandparents. This is the new Asian American experience - and it's not a story of assimilation. And it's definitely not solely about the conflict of being Asian and American, of east vs. west - it's about the successful mixture of influences and sensibilities from different parts of the world.

Peter Tieryas Liu is the product of this new Asian American experience. His stories blend Asian folktales and elements of diaspora with, in the case of his collaborative comic with James Chiang, Dr. 2, very American elements, like Noir.

The first issue of Dr. 2 gives us a glimpse into this future dystopic world while giving hints to an atrocity of WWII. We're introduced to the enigmatic Dr. 2, who seems like a mix between reluctant detective and mystical badass. James Chiang's art shines here in oppressive shades and darkness. In just the first issue, we're transported from 1940's Shanghai to future New York City and a strange murder that smells of blueberries.

What I'm saying here is that Peter's work is showing that the Asian American experience can be, well, cool. It can be fun. And most importantly, for me at least, it can be new. How exciting is that?

Pretty exciting.

You can get Dr. 2 here, on Kindle, for now. Check it out!

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