Tag Archives: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

The Search for America’s Soul: Minari

26 May

In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I have decided to write a review of the recent award-winning Korean language film “Minari,” which had a profound effect upon me. It is a uniquely American film focusing on a family of Korean immigrants who move to rural Arkansas in the 1980s in order to pursue the American dream of starting their own farm.

The director, Lee Isaac Chung, grew up on an Arkansas farm, so the film is inherently authentic and semi-autobiographical.  His character-driven script and gentle, unhurried direction give the cast and story room to breathe. This is top-notch filmmaking from beginning to end.

As the film opens, the Yi family are moving from California to Arkansas. The father Jacob (Steven Yeun) and wife Monica (Yeri Han) are chicken sexers, which means they identify the sex of newborn chicks for chicken farms. The females are kept for eggs and poultry, while the males are thrown into the incinerator.

Jacob has purchased a cheap plot of land and the dilapidated trailer home that sits on the property. Together, they will raise their two young children and hopefully start a successful farm so that they can leave the monotonous, soul-killing work of chicken sexing behind.

There is clear marital tension between Jacob and Monica, and it is only exacerbated by the isolation and loneliness of their new home. Apparently, their life in California was much more social, because they were surrounded by other Korean and Asian families. However, property taxes were escalating and they couldn’t afford to stay, so they decide to move to rural Arkansas where the cost of living is cheaper and life is much simpler and safer.

Jacob and Monica try to ingratiate themselves into the local community in Arkansas by joining a church. Their ethnicity is a novelty, but they are mostly welcomed. They quickly find that holding down their jobs, trying to start a farm and raising two children is too much, so they send for Monica’s mother, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung, winner of the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award), an elderly woman who instantly infuses life and humor into the household. Her first goal is to win over the skepticism of her young grandson David (Alan S. Kim) and her granddaughter Anne (Noel Cho) who is somewhat more reasonable.

But even with the new help on the home front, Jacob struggles with his farmland. One problem after another occurs, beginning with the lack of cheap water supply. However, an angel appears in the form of Paul (Will Patton), an eccentric Vietnam veteran and evangelical Christian, who offers to help farm the land. They make an unlikely, yet effective team. However, just as the situation changes for the better, Soonja suffers a stroke, throwing the family into crisis.

The anchor of the film is Steven Yeun, an actor born in South Korea and raised in Michigan who is the star of the popular TV series “The Walking Dead.”  His work in “Minari” is nothing less than masterful, a performance of subtlety and depth matched by Yeri Han (Monica) and Youn Yuh-jung (the feisty grandmother Soonja), both of whom were nominated for SAG Awards.

Just what is minari you may ask?  It is an edible Korean water plant, like a watercress, that is said to grow almost anywhere. This seems like an apt metaphor for a movie about the resilience of immigrants. However, it is so much more than that, because of the racial reckoning in America and, of course, the recent attacks on Asian Americans in New York City and beyond. It is impossible to watch “Minari” without keeping those events in mind. It is not just about the American dream; it is a search for America’s soul.

“Minari” is a poignant, heart-filling celebration of putting down roots, family bonding, and inter-racial connections that is ultimately very intimate, improbably funny and steadfastly stirring. You can borrow it from BCCLS libraries on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Reference Librarian

Two Stellar Speculative Fiction Reads for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

5 May

For May, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I’m sharing a Science Fiction and a Fantasy novel, which were written by Asian American authors, I read and enjoyed with our HPL Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group.

The Grace of Kings
by Ken Liu

You may remember in a past blog post, I discussed The Three-Body Problem by Chinese author Cixin Liu translated by Chinese American author, Ken Liu.  Many of our members enjoyed the book so were curious to read a book written by Liu himself.  We read The Grace of Kings the first in Liu’s The Dandelion Dynasty trilogy for our August 2020 book; it is available to Hoboken patrons after you log in with your library card to eLibraryNJ.  I had read reviews of Liu’s book The Grace of Kings describing it as Silkpunk since it takes details from Asian countries and used them as a way to advance technology in a manner similar to how Steampunk used Victorian era steam technology in Europe.  The book does contain clever creations like battle kites, but Liu creates an even more elaborate world beyond this which will sure to entice Epic Fantasy fans like some of our book group members are.  You can check out the first and second book (The Wall of Storms) in the series in print from Hoboken and other BCCLS Libraries.  The third book The Veiled Throne is scheduled to be released at the beginning of November.

How to Live Safely in A Science Fictional Universe
by Charles Yu

Last month, our group read How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.  The story focuses on a time machine repairmen and his relationship with his parents, one of whom disappeared and the other of whom has chosen to live in a time loop.  Charles Yu parents were immigrants from Taiwan and some autobiographical details from Yu’s own life are used in the story.  I enjoyed the philosophical musing throughout and I thought the window into the experience of immigrants that was provided was very insightful.  Some of the group found the book a bit slow going at first, but were drawn to the ending where the narrative began to coalesce more.  This book will appeal to those who enjoy unusual quirky narration and meta-fictional elements.  Yu’s latest novel, Interior China Town, won a 2020 National Book Award for Fiction.  Both of Yu’s novels are available in print from Hoboken and other BCCLS Libraries and you can log in for access to the eLibraryNJ.

Stay tuned I’ll be writing about a Chinese/Filipino author our book club enjoyed, Rin Chupeco, as part of my June post celebrating Trans and Non-Binary Speculative Fiction Authors for LGBTQ Pride Month.   

Email hplwriters@gmail.com, if you’d like to join the mailing list for our Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group.  Our next group meeting will be on Thursday, May 27 at 4 PM, when we will be discussing All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders.  You can request or stop by the second floor reference desk for a print copy.

Share your favorite books written by Asian American Authors in our comments!

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Information and Digital Services

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