Louie, David Wong 1954-
LOUIE, David Wong 1954-
PERSONAL: Born 1954, in Rockville Centre, NY; son of laundry workers; married, 1982 (divorced); married, 1995; children: (first marriage) Julian. Ethnicity: "Chinese-American." Education: Vassar College, B.A., 1977; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1981.
CAREER: Writer and teacher. Worked in advertising in New York; teacher of creative writing and literature at University of California at Berkeley, 1988, Vassar College, 1988-92, and University of California at Los Angeles, 1992—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Art Seidenbaum Award, first fiction, Los Angeles Times, and John C. Zacharis First Book Award, Ploughshares/Emerson College, both 1991, both for Pangs of Love, and Other Stories; Lannan Foundation Literary fellowship, 2002.
Pangs of Love, and Other Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
The Barbarians Are Coming, Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.
Work represented in anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories of 1989, Houghton, (Boston, MA), 1989; The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature, edited by Jeffery P. Chan, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991; Other Sides of Silence: A Ploughshares Anthology, Faber (New York, NY), 1993; and Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, Viking (New York, NY), 1993.
Contributor to periodicals, including Chicago Review, Fiction International, Iowa Review, New York Times Book Review, and Ploughshares.
SIDELIGHTS: David Wong Louie has won acclaim with his first book, Pangs of Love, and Other Stories, in which he concentrates on the world of Asian Americans. Among the notable tales in this offbeat collection are the title entry, in which a woman's son belittles her because she cannot speak English; "Disturbing the Universe," which recasts baseball as Chinese in origin; "The Movers," in which a young man finds himself alone in an empty house and gradually assumes the identity of its previous occupant; and "Bottle of Beaujolais," in which a sushi-bar worker, who keeps an otter in his storefront window, falls under the romantic spell of a mysterious woman.
Pangs of Love also includes "Displacement," in which an immigrant cleaning woman feigns ignorance of English and silently suffers the verbal harangues of her elderly employer. This story won inclusion in the anthology The Best American Short Stories of 1989. According to Dewitt Henry of Ploughshares, the prestigious literary journal of Emerson College in Boston, "the complexity of the story" arises from "the complexity of Mrs. Chow's character," an aristocratic, displaced Chinese female artist. DeWitt wrote, "The story as I read it resolves not with assimilation, but with her resigned and forward-looking ironic accommodation."
Upon publication in 1991 Pangs of Love gained recognition as an impressive literary debut for Louie. Janice C. Simpson, writing in Time, proclaimed Louie's volume "a sharp and quirky collection," and Gary Krist, in his assessment for the New York Times Book Review, affirmed that Pangs of Love is an "inventive first collection." Krist added that Louie's "affectionate and mildly surrealistic vision is embodied in imaginative narratives that . . . at least succeed in persuading us of their own manic integrity." Pangs of Love, Krist concluded, "refuses to be pigeonholed—and that in itself is a valiant achievement." Chief among the themes of the collection's eleven stories are "alienation, human suffering, compassion, healing, and forgiveness," as Betty Wang noted in Jade Dragon.
Louie's first novel, The Barbarians Are Coming, is the story of an immigrant Chinese family on Long Island in the late 1970s. Sterling Lung, son of Chinese laundry owners and a first-generation American, narrates the tale. Paul Gray of Time called it "a sprightly novel of assimilation." Resisting his parents' wishes to become a doctor, Sterling instead studies cooking at the Culinary Institute of America and intends to become a chef. He breaks the news to his parents, as Richard Eder described it in the New York Times Book Review, "outfitted with a chef's knife, a napkin and white coat.
Doctor's coat, his mother surmises. Knife for surgery. Napkin for wiping up blood. It is one of many misunderstandings that apply a comical distress to the surface of a more painful tale." Sterling lands a job cooking at an upscale Connecticut ladies' club, only to receive requests for Chinese food, which he never learned to cook. Although the Lungs have arranged for a young woman from Hong Kong to come to the United States to marry their son, he makes plans to marry Bliss Sass, his pregnant Jewish-American girlfriend. The younger Lung succeeds in disappointing his parents on all fronts, with major and minor episodes creating even greater distances between father and son.
The tenor of the novel bounces between pathos and humor, as Louie explores the discord that confronts Chinese-American families. Don Lee of Ploughshares noted that "the heart and power of Louie's novel lies more in the tragedy, not the comedy, of the Lung men." Wanting their son to assimilate, the Lungs also want him to remain Chinese, creating an impossible dilemma for him. Sterling, meanwhile, wishes to become the All-American male. Shirley N. Quan of Library Journal observed, "Louie writes with wit, intelligence, sensitivity, and insight, presenting an incredible yet believable assortment of characters who are all tied together in one emotionally moving and satisfying story." Publishers Weekly called the book "brilliant in its scathing insights.... Louie dazzlingly captures the bitter ironies of Asian-American life, but it is the scenes between father and son and, eventually, the scenes between Sterling and his sons, that expose the most complex realities of Chinese-American identity.... Louie's coruscating novel is full of astonishing writing, but the real delight is his wit and humor as he keeps plucking away the prickly petals of his characters' desires until he finds their hearts."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Amerasia Journal, spring, 1996, Lisa Lowe, review of Pangs of Love, p. 253.
Biography, winter, 2001, Lisa Marie Cacho, "Asian Americans," p. 363.
Boston Sunday Globe, March 5, 2000, review of The Barbarians Are Coming.
Elle Magazine, March, 2000, review of The Barbarians Are Coming.
Fiction Readers' Advisory, October 10, 2000, Charlotte Thompson, review of The Barbarians Are Coming.
Library Journal, June 1, 1991, Glenn Masuchika, review of Pangs of Love, p. 194; February 15, 2000, Shirley N. Quan, review of The Barbarians Are Coming, p. 197.
Newsday, March 6, 2000, review of The Barbarians Are Coming.
New York Times Book Review, July 14, 1991, Gary Krist, review of Pangs of Love, p. 13; July 14, 1991, Laurel Graeb, "It's Hard to Explain Mother," p. 13; Richard Eder, "Now We're Cooking" (review of The Barbarians Are Coming), p. 8.
Ploughshares, fall, 2000, Don Lee, review of The Barbarians Are Coming, p. 225.
Poets & Writers Magazine, July-August, 2000, Cheryl Pearl, "David Wong Louie: Traveling the Distance between Fathers and Sons," p. 48.
Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1991, Gayle Feldman, "Spring's Five Fictional Encounters of the Chinese American Kind," p. 25; May 10, 1991, review of Pangs of Love, p. 270; November 22, 1991, Lisa See, "Kesey Wins Kirsch Award at 12th L.A. Times' Prizegiving" (prizewinners include David Wong Louie), p. 15; January 10, 2000, review of The Barbarians Are Coming, p. 43.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 5-11, 2000, review of The Barbarians Are Coming.
Seattle Weekly, March 2, 2000, review of The Barbarians Are Coming.
Time, June 3, 1991, Janice C. Simpson and Iyer Pico, "Fresh Voices above the Noisy Din; New Works by Four Chinese Americans Splendidly Illustrate the Frustrations, Humor and Eternal Wonder of the Immigrant's Life," pp. 66-67; March 27, 2000, Paul Gray, review of The Barbarians Are Coming, p. 97.
BookBrowser,http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (March 28, 2002), Harriet Klausner, review of The Barbarians Are Coming.
Ploughshares Web site,http://www.pshares.org/ (fall, 1988), DeWitt Henry, "On David Wong Louie."