Racial Asymmetries

Asian American Fictional Worlds

297 pages

January, 2014

ISBN: 9781479800278



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Stephen Hong Sohn is Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University.  He is the co-editor of Transnational Asian American Literature: Sites and Transits.

All books by Stephen Hong Sohn

Challenging the tidy links among authorial position, narrative perspective, and fictional content, Stephen Hong Sohn argues that Asian American authors have never been limited to writing about Asian American characters or contexts. Racial Asymmetries specifically examines the importance of first person narration in Asian American fiction published in the postrace era, focusing on those cultural productions in which the author’s ethnoracial makeup does not directly overlap with that of the storytelling perspective.
Through rigorous analysis of novels and short fiction, such as Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztex, Sabina Murray’s A Carnivore’s Inquiry and Sigrid Nunez’s The Last of Her Kind, Sohn reveals how the construction of narrative perspective allows the Asian American writer a flexible aesthetic canvas upon which to engage issues of oppression and inequity, power and subjectivity, and the complicated construction of racial identity. Speaking to concerns running through postcolonial studies and American literature at large, Racial Asymmetries employs an interdisciplinary approach to reveal the unbounded nature of fictional worlds.


  • "Stephen Sohn’s Racial Asymmetries provides rich, nuanced readings of the performance, permutations, and persistence of race in 21st-century Asian American literature. In calling attention to the interplay between diverse Asian American texts and their conditions of emergence as such, Sohn’s analyses appreciate the cultural politics of difference that Asian American fictional worlds continue to critically express."

    —Victor Bascara, University of California, Los Angeles

  • “An incisive guide to reading Asian American writing in a ‘post-race’ era, Racial Asymmetries compels us to rethink our assumptions about ethnic literatures. Sohn demonstrates that the unmooring of narrative perspective from authorial background should be understood not as an emptying out of politics, but rather as a profusion of political critique as well as cultural creativity.”

    —Juliana Chang, author of Inhuman Citizenship

  • “Ambitious, innovative, and rigorously researched, Racial Asymmetries licenses Asian American writers to exercise their fictive imaginations, releasing them from the burdens of racial representation, while calling on Asian Americanists to expansively reimagine their field.”

    —Martin Joseph Ponce, author of Beyond the Nation

  • "Stephen Hong Song has written one of the smartest, analytical books on literature in the past year with Racial Asymmetries: Asian American Fictional Worlds. Sohn isn't just a scholar, but an excavator, an archaeologist, an explorer, and a poet, traversing racial narratives."

    Entropy Magazine

  • “With the proliferation of works by Asian Americans who are transnational/first-generation or multiracial and who publish in genres not normally associated with Asian American literature, the current challenge of criticism is to expand ‘social-context methodologies.’ In doing so, Sohn argues that we will move ‘beyond the limits of cultural nationalist models’ in order to foreground a ‘deconstructive critical methodology.’ Racial Asymmetries is at its best when staking out new ground for Asian Americanist critique, especially in helping redefine the kinds of narratives we should seek out and work to understand the relation to the political dimensions of difference. . . . Sohn’s ambitious work asks fundamental questions of the Asian Americanist critical enterprise by examining and challenging old loyalties and gesturing toward more productive ways of selecting and interpreting literary texts that fall outside of normal expectations.”


  • "Sohn's project unsettles the boundary between the fictional world and its cultural context, revealing how refractive and elliptical the relation between the two can be--a move that deflects our gaze from Elaine H. Kim's foundational view of Asian American literature 'as both social document and a mirror of memory.' After reading Racial Asymmetries, one cannot help but look differently at what constitutes Asian American studies, as well as the storytelling practices that define Asian American literatures."

    Journal of American Studies

  • “Sohn’s Racial Asymmetries argues that considering novels by Asian American writers that feature non-Asian American narrators both widens the usual scope of literary criticism and remains true to the field’s activist origins. […] Telling these and other stories from unexpected points of view challenges our sometimes limited view of Asian Americans and adds complexity to our understanding of their relations with white and ethnic others.” 

    American Literature

  • “What constitutes Asian American literature? Who can claim to be an Asian American author? Sohn builds a theory of categorization that places him in a distinguished genealogy of field-defining critics, including Elaine Kim, Yen Le Espiritu, Viet Nguyen, and Min Song.”

    ALH Online Review