Kawika Guillermo on "Nimrods" and Y-Dang Troeung's "Landbridge"


Today I talked to Christopher Patterson about two books:  the late Y-Dang Troeung's Landbridge [life in fragments] (Knopf Canada, 2023) and Christopher's own Nimrods: A Fake-Punk Self-Hurt Anti-Memoir (Duke UP, 2023), which was published under the name Kawika Guillermo.

In Landbridge, Y-Dang Troeung meditates on her family’s refugee history and the genocide that has marked the lives of millions of Cambodians like herself. She writes scathingly about how she and her family became the “faces” of Cambodian refugees in Canada, officially welcomed by then prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, her 11-month old face plastered on newspapers as a sign of Canadian benevolence; her return trips to Phnom Penh with her mother and then with her partner Chris are filled with anguish and guilt but also love and friendship. Interspersed with memories of her childhood growing up in Canada – going out in the middle of the night to collect worms for money, enduring the racist attack of neighbors and schoolmates, staying up with her brothers to watch their beloved Montreal Canadiens – she talks about how her research into and deep knowledge about Cambodia is dismissed in academia. As much as it is a reflection on the past, Landbridge is also a missive to the future, a letter from a dying mother to her beloved child. Y-Dang’s voice is powerful and raw, her words filled with joy, regret, anger, and love, sometimes within the space of a few sentences. I started reading this book and found that I could not put it down until I had finished it.

Nimrods recounts a very different kind of Asian diasporic experience. Guillermo explores the pain of a childhood and adulthood marked by rigidly Christian dictates espoused by a father who was abusive and alcoholic. The alienation that he feels as a brown-skinned, biracial and bisexual person within his own family is echoed by the racism that he experiences living in the United States. His attempts to flee that past lead to a life of travel outside of the United States. Guillermo challenges the reader with a reading surface in which text and white space are in uneven relation to each other – words or letters fade in or out, the order in which you’re supposed to read is unclear, images are interspersed with text – but the difficulty of the text and the difficult emotions that it depicts seemed to me to ultimately be a rumination on the nature of community and forgiveness.

Julia H. Lee is professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of three books: Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896-1937 (New York University Press, 2011), Understanding Maxine Hong Kingston (University of South Carolina Press, 2018), and The Racial Railroad (New York University Press, 2022). With Professor Josephine Lee, she is co-editor of Asian American Literature in Transition, 1850-1930 (Cambridge University Press, 2021), a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2022. You can find her on Twitter @thejuliahlee.

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