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The Loneliest Americans
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The Loneliest Americans
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A “provocative and sweeping” (Time) blend of family history and original reportage that explores—and reimagines—Asian American identity in a Black and white...
A “provocative and sweeping” (Time) blend of family history and original reportage that explores—and reimagines—Asian American identity in a Black and white...
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  • A “provocative and sweeping” (Time) blend of family history and original reportage that explores—and reimagines—Asian American identity in a Black and white world
    “[Kang’s] exploration of class and identity among Asian Americans will be talked about for years to come.”—Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times Book Review
    ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Time, NPR, Mother Jones

      
    In 1965, a new immigration law lifted a century of restrictions against Asian immigrants to the United States. Nobody, including the lawmakers who passed the bill, expected it to transform the country’s demographics. But over the next four decades, millions arrived, including Jay Caspian Kang’s parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They came with almost no understanding of their new home, much less the history of “Asian America” that was supposed to define them.
     
    The Loneliest Americans is the unforgettable story of Kang and his family as they move from a housing project in Cambridge to an idyllic college town in the South and eventually to the West Coast. Their story unfolds against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding Asian America, as millions more immigrants, many of them working-class or undocumented, stream into the country. At the same time, upwardly mobile urban professionals have struggled to reconcile their parents’ assimilationist goals with membership in a multicultural elite—all while trying to carve out a new kind of belonging for their own children, who are neither white nor truly “people of color.”
     
    Kang recognizes this existential loneliness in himself and in other Asian Americans who try to locate themselves in the country’s racial binary. There are the businessmen turning Flushing into a center of immigrant wealth; the casualties of the Los Angeles riots; the impoverished parents in New York City who believe that admission to the city’s exam schools is the only way out; the men’s right’s activists on Reddit ranting about intermarriage; and the handful of protesters who show up at Black Lives Matter rallies holding “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” signs.
    Kang’s exquisitely crafted book brings these lonely parallel climbers together and calls for a new immigrant solidarity—one rooted not in bubble tea and elite college admissions but in the struggles of refugees and the working class.

Excerpts-

  • From the cover Chapter One

    How We Got Here


    Sometime in the years leading up to the Korean War—­the exact dates are unknown or, perhaps, obscured—­my mother’s father was slated for execution. He had been born and raised in a village in North Korea and was working as a civil servant when the Communists took over in 1945. Over the next three years, my grandfather attended a handful of anti-­Communist meetings. For that, he was branded as part of the intelligentsia and subjected to routine harassment. The news of his execution orders were relayed to him by a friend, who claimed to have seen a list somewhere. A few days later, my grandfather dressed up as a fisherman and hopped on the back of a delivery truck to escape to the south. He left behind my grandmother, my oldest aunt, and an uncle. My grandmother and her kids followed on foot a few months later, accompanied by a family friend. She faced, at the time, an impossibility of circumstance, and I’ve wondered whether she, like Lot’s wife, ever considered looking back at the family and friends she was leaving behind. These dilemmas, which shape our crude and ultimately conditional allegiances to family, duty, and our futures, are usually foisted upon the young, who lack the vocabulary to describe what is happening to them.

    My grandmother, aunt, and uncle reunited with my grandfather in Seoul and then made their way to a makeshift refugee camp outside the city. They weren’t alone. In the years before and during the war, 10 percent of the entire population of North Korea—­roughly one million people—­escaped to the south. They formed their own refugee communities outside of mainstream South Korean society, which regarded them with general suspicion. But any plan for assimilation into the newly formed nation would be disrupted on June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces led by Kim Il-­Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-­Un, began an artillery attack on the south and a military push that captured Seoul. Two weeks before my mother was born, General MacArthur, who was in charge of the American troops, launched an amphibious attack at Incheon and pushed quickly up to Seoul. My mother was born amid artillery fire, but when she was three days old, Seoul had been liberated from North Korean forces.

    Nobody on my mother’s side of the family has anything to say about the war. They are either dead, somewhere in North Korea, or in the United States. My grandmother never spoke of what happened during those years, and my mother was too young to remember. They knew that two million people died. My uncle died of typhus during the war, but nobody talked about that, either. All they said was that when he died, my grandfather wrapped his body in a blanket and disappeared for three days. He apparently told my grandmother where he buried the body only when he was in his sixties, hobbled from diabetes and near death himself. The men in their refugee village went into the forests, chopped down wood, and burned it to make charcoal to sell. My mother says she can recall the image of a man covered in soot standing in the entryway to their shack, but she isn’t sure if this is a real memory or her mind’s struggle to make visual sense out of whatever her own mother had let slip about those years. This is not uncommon, of course, but I mention it only because if I wanted to tell my daughter that all this death—­her great-­uncle and all the hundreds of friends and relatives left behind in the north—­was her inheritance, I would have to look at a history book.

    After the war, my mother’s family moved to Seoul, where my...

About the Author-

  • Jay Caspian Kang is a writer-at-large for The New York Times Magazine. His other work has appeared in The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker, and on This American Life and Vice, where he worked as an Emmy-nominated correspondent. He is the author of the novel The Dead Do Not Improve, which The Boston Globe called “an extremely smart, funny debut, with moments of haunting beauty.”

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 13, 2021
    In this searing treatise, Kang (The Dead Do Not Improve), a writer-at-large for the New York Times Magazine, examines what it means to be Asian “within the narrative of a country that would rather write you out of it.” Through personal anecdote and extensive reporting, he illuminates how, in the United States where, he writes, the racial binary is white and Black, Asians face a “loneliness that comes from attempts to assimilate, whether by melting into the white middle class or by creating an elaborate, yet ultimately derivative, racial ‘identity.’ ” A first-generation Korean American, Kang is refreshingly candid in his analysis, addressing how immigrants who come from Asia lack the intrinsic solidarity that has been foisted upon them—either by American ignorance or well-intentioned, but often misguided, activist efforts. He adds texture to this sentiment by making the historical personal, detailing his experience as the son of two North Korean refugees who moved to the United States in 1979. But his story is secondary to a larger cultural interrogation, as he deconstructs the “blinkered optimism” of the Asian immigrants who came to America after the passing of 1965’s Hart-Celler Act, and scrutinizes the reddit thread MRAZNs (Men’s Rights Activist Azns). This excellent commentary on the Asian American experience radiates with nuance and emotion.

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