The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature

224 pages

March, 2011

ISBN: 9780814758458



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erin Khuê Ninh is Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

All books by erin Khuê Ninh

2013  Winner of the Asian American Studies Association's prize in Literary Studies 
Anger and bitterness tend to pervade narratives written by second generation Asian American daughters, despite their largely unremarkable upbringings. In Ingratitude, erin Khuê Ninh explores this apparent paradox, locating in the origins of these women’s maddeningly immaterial suffering not only racial hegemonies but also the structure of the immigrant family itself. She argues that the filial debt of these women both demands and defies repayment—all the better to produce the docile subjects of a model minority.Through readings of Jade Snow Wong’s Fifth Chinese Daughter, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, Evelyn Lau’s Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, Catherine Liu’s Oriental Girls Desire Romance, and other texts, Ninh offers not an empirical study of intergenerational conflict so much as an explication of the subjection and psyche of the Asian American daughter. She connects common literary tropes to their theoretical underpinnings in power, profit, and subjection. In so doing, literary criticism crosses over into a kind of collective memoir of the Asian immigrants’ daughter as an analysis not of the daughter, but for and by her.


  • “erin Khuê Ninh is insistent and persuasive in drawing our attention to the ways that race, economy, and power saturate the Asian American family and, within it, the place of daughters. Ingratitude is also an assertive, stylish, and elegant work of criticism, offering new insights into well-read texts while making the case for reading more closely lesser-known stories.”

    —Viet Nguyen, author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America

  • "In considering Jade Snow Wong's Fifth Chinese Daughter (1950), Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior (1976), Evelyn Lau's Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid (1989), Catherine Lau's Oriental Girls Desire Romance (1997), and other works, the author looks at intergenerational conflict as a ste of power, an inequality which Asian American subjectivity and identity has been constituted."

    —J.R. Wendlanad , Choice

  • "Ninh makes a valuable contribution to Asian American Studies as well as gender/women's studies when she brings critical insight to gender-specific readings of the Asian American daughter, exploring the nuances of how familial structures of feelings and structures of power construct and produce the disciplined, docile, and chaste daughter."

    —Catherine H. Nguyen, Amerasia Journal

  • "Ninh's study takes the figure of the second-generation Asian American daughter, familiar to most readers through the popular trope of the mother-daughter relationship, to brilliantly show how this figure necessitates "a reading of the nuclear family as a special form of capitalist enterprise.""

    American Literature

  • "Deftly cognizant of the relationship between the filial and the financial, Ingratitude seamlessly moves between well-known works and less-discussed memoirs.  This archive, explored over the course of four chapters, enables Ninh to 'reconstruct the processes by which diligent, docile immigrants' daughters are produced.'"

    —Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, College Literature