The First (and hopefully only) Time That Brooklyn Nine-Nine Disappointed Me

As much as I enjoy Brooklyn Nine-Nine for its hilarity and progressiveness, as an Asian female, I can’t help feeling very disappointed about the Captain Kim episode I watched today.

Sure, the B99 squad had its fair share of bad bosses and had a legit reason to be suspicious of Kim at first. But the ending really didn’t stick the landing for me.

A competent, accomplished, genuinely kind Asian female police officer ditches the 99 captain position because she felt unwelcome and wouldn’t mesh with the squad. What kind of message is that? Not a good one. Especially to Asian females like myself.

I was really excited about Asian representation that I feel is long overdue for this show. I ended up disappointed that the opportunity was tossed out the window, and Kim was reduced to a one-time throwaway character.

Even more disappointing was that Holt, my favorite in the show, who had the most reason to support a marginalized individual like Kim, and was even told by Kim how much she admired him, didn’t bat an eye at her feeling that she had to leave the 99.

Well, at least Kim wasn’t given some stereotype like being a terrible driver, for the sake of “see, character flaw, she’s not too perfect.”

Do I still like B99 overall? Yes. Am I still going to watch it? Yes. I’m just going to try to pretend that the Captain Kim episode doesn’t exist.

Spoiler-free book review of The Sympathizer

Title: The Sympathizer
Author: Viet Thanh Nguyen
Genre: Literary, political, drama, satire

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Thoughts from a second generation Vietnamese-American:

Viet Thanh Nguyen being the first Vietnamese person to win the Pulitzer Prize caused quite a stir in my local community. I could not pass up giving this book a read. O’Brien comes to mind when most people think of Vietnam War literature, and harrowing stories of American veterans abound, yet I find it so refreshing to finally have a Vietnamese voice present to the English-speaking audience. Refugees do tell their stories, but usually not in English to be heard by the rest of the world. In this regard I think The Sympathizer’s most strongest element is Nguyen’s use of language. The novel is sprinkled with bright glimmers of insight on Asian-American politics and sociology. Through his duplicitous, well-educated, unnamed biracial narrator, Nguyen spares no side with his biting satire. American society, the southern Vietnamese resistance, and even his own side the northern Communists are all probed and critiqued by this spy, whose unique position as an outsider lends him the freedom to do so. His criticism is sharpest when he gets involved in the American film industry as a cultural consultant, earnestly attempting but failing to deliver proper Vietnamese representation in media as his opinions and efforts are undermined and largely ignored by the American filmmaker. This issue is very prevalent today, which is likely why it resonates the most with me as both a consumer and a Vietnamese person. The novel is framed as a confession the spy is writing to his communist superiors, and this writing style took some getting used to. The lack of quotation marks made it hard to distinguish between dialogue and internal monologue, which the narrator often digresses into in compelling but long paragraphs. The pacing might have suffered somewhat from this and made the novel seem longer than it should be, but it’s not enough of a detriment to make me stop reading. The writing style Nguyen chose is appropriate, given the context and narrator’s situation, even if I as the reader had to plod through some of it. The narrator is not without his flaws; throughout the novel there are instances of the male gaze that I as a woman find unlikable, but I think that contributes to the complexity of the character. Like with real people, there would be things you like and don’t like about a person. What I did like about the narrator is, like I’ve said before, his insight into Vietnamese and American culture, his position as someone with mixed heritage, and an enduring love for his mother, blood brothers, and country: emotional anchors he latches onto as he is constantly deceiving people who trust him and shifting political allegiances. Born into a family of immigrants and raised by Vietnam War refugees, I did not expect to be enthralled with the perspective of a communist spy, yet Nguyen surprised me. From the start Nguyen challenged himself by writing from a point of view most would not expect to adopt. The author, a refugee himself, chose to write from the eyes of “the enemy,” which I’d imagine is not an easy thing to do. I didn’t expect to find a communist spy relatable and even likable at times. I find myself sympathizing with the sympathizer.

5/5

Spoiler-free book review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Title: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Author: Anthony Marra
Genre(s): Literary, fiction, Chechnya, war, family, friendship, tragedy

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I came into this cold. One, I’m Vietnamese, and two, I’m living on the other side of the world. So I was uncomfortably unfamiliar with the history, culture, and current events of Chechnya. It’s a region in Russia rife with conflict, often forgotten and overlooked, and I was afraid I’d come into this story quite lost. Marra, however, knew how to bring me up to speed through the thoughts and actions of his characters.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena takes place between the 90s and early 2000s, presenting a staggering amount of characters and timelines, but chiefly concerns, among others, a Chechen girl named Havaa whose father was kidnapped by the Feds. Her father’s friend Akhmed, in charge of her care and protection, approaches a Russian surgeon named Sonja for sanctuary. Fate brings these three people together as Havaa is somehow connected to Natasha, Sonja’s missing sister, and Akhmed might get to the bottom of why Havaa’s father disappeared.

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Spoiler-free book review: The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor

Title: The Complete Stories
Author: Flannery O’Connor
Genre(s): Historical, southern, religious (Christian/Catholic), short fiction

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This is my first exposure to works by Flannery O’Connor. Even without knowing beforehand she’s a devout Catholic, a look at one or two of her stories is enough to tell you what she wants to say. She gets the religious message across in honest and painful ways, often in unlikable yet relatable characters.

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Spoiler-free book review and recommendation: The Tsar of Love and Techno

Title: The Tsar of Love and Techno
Author: Anthony Marra
Genre(s): Short fiction, literary, historical fiction, Russian culture, Russian history, drama, tragedy

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I can’t recommend this book enough. This string of Soviet-era short stories is packed with emotional, powerful moments that sent chills up my spine, made me shiver and go “ooh, that was good.” Anthony Marra has a way with words and storytelling that frames and captures a vivid, bleak landscape of northern industrial Russia, and paints in a cast of characters whose triumphs and tragedies I resonated with as if they were my own. A myriad of relationships are explored, strengthened, and broken. Brotherhood transcends time, space, and the ruthless oppression of the Soviet Union. Romances spark, ignite, flicker, and fade. Regardless of your preference for novels or short stories, I believe The Tsar of Love and Techno is the best of both worlds by delivering the poignant snapshots of short stories while interconnecting them to impart the satisfaction of a full-fledged novel. Characters come back in ways you don’t expect and their arcs come in full circle, all revolving around a mysterious, obscure Russian painting. This is definitely a book you’d want to revisit to connect the dots and pick up details you had missed before.

5/5