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Translating Mo'Um Paperback – March 1, 2002
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Central to her approach is an interest in and identification with the grotesque, with "freaks" and the idea of spectacle from the inside and the outside, as something that is inhabited and observed. "Fragments of freaks: the Hottentot's ass,/the Siamese twins' toupee, the indecisive gap/who said I do. Later, no forget it, I don't." There are poems about the first Siamese twins, Change and Eng, and about the Venus Hottentot. The otherness that these subjects represent is akin to the experience of being an immigrant in a hostile culture, but Hong also reveals an association born of personal history in The Shameful Show of Tono Maria: "Still mute, I was sent to Special Ed/ with autistics, paraplegics, and a boy/who only ate dirt".
Themes of muteness, difficulty of speech weave throughout the collection. Hong mines the tension between words and body, exploring the embodiment of language and the linguistics of the body.Read more ›
Often, with so called Asian American literature, the critics opt for the easy reading, proclaim the text to be about "maintaining one's traditions," and "identity," then close the book. Mission accomplished. True, the book deals with these issues, and to a reader who fails to take a closer look, Translating Mo'um might seem familiar, monotonous, droning.
Instead of the either/or (either exclusively Asian or American) or the indefensibly simple-minded Asian + American = Asian American (yay!) perspectives, Ms. Hong writes from the Neither/Nor stance, neither Asian nor so-called American.
Here, there is always something lost in translation, in that "labor of crossing." Ms. Hong writes from that negative space in between. Note the epigraph by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: "She mimics the speaking. That might resemble speech." That loss of agency where "the word / speaks / without you"
Before this turns into an academic paper, I'll just mention the book's preoccupation with the grotesque body, "...a body in the act of becoming." The quote is Bakhtin's and the idea is a keystone figure. To talk about desire in this book is to talk about the grotesque, and vice versa, which generates the nexus from which Ms. Hong discusses sexual repression, image control, and considers the question of where the power of speech as an act resides. Who decides what is grotesque, exotic, impossible, or desirable, and by what means?
As the context of Asian American life changes, so does the conditions of its problems.Read more ›
Technically, Hong demonstrates quite a palette. Almost nothing she writes escapes a surreal twist: "I grew a petri dish of princes, all replicating and jostling each oher for my hand" "winds / sprouted like weeds, while we sucked juice / from matronly oranges" "never the opaque doll but the battery that ran it" "We barely knew each other yet he confessed to me until his face clattered off like a hubcap." She's capable of a fluid music as well: "Palpitation, cyst, polyp: skin licked, / tongue pioneers among topographic pulp."
I could find no moment that threatened sentimentality, although many times I was left without an emotional response to the material - just a cerebral appreciation of her syntactic or imagistic manipulation.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read Translating Mo'um in one sitting and was completely transfixed. I think it's a really strong debut collection that's full of frank and jagged energy. Read morePublished on June 30, 2007 by loose goose
It is surprising to me that this disparate collection somehow found a publisher. Disregard the positive reviewers who are not surprisingly all from places the author has lived in... Read morePublished on June 27, 2006 by HawkeyeRx
This is a forceful and exciting collection by this emerging poet. I can't wait to see what she will bring out next.Published on May 10, 2006 by spark213
To suggest that Ms. Hong talks TOO MUCH about being found attractive by non-Asian Americans is almost to imply that she enjoys being fetishized, glories in it; a classic Western... Read morePublished on February 19, 2005 by tineefob