- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (June 10, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0547450486
- ISBN-13: 978-0547450483
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 67 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #785,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self Hardcover – June 10, 2014
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This hybrid memoir-history, written compellingly by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and professor Tizon, moves back and forth and all around in the history of yellow men and women—the author (a Filipino), in particular, and all those who have come to be lumped into the politically correct category of Asian. Why are Asian women hot and Asian men not? How to make a white world understand the concept of wen wu (“the containment rather than the use of power”), which Westerners view as wimpiness and servitude? Growing up with U.S. culture portraying dim and unassertive yellow men on TV (e.g., on Bonanza) and in films (where the Asian guy never gets the girl), Tizon launches on a personal and historical exploration. From the yellow peril (WWII) to “Yellow Fever” (e.g., blogs about Asian women’s sexiness) to the yellow tornado (contemporary Asian sports and business stars), impressions are changing. And here, along with eye-opening information about such forgotten figures as the much-loved Chinese warrior-thinker Zheng He (a mid-1400s explorer), Tizon portrays his color-tinged youth, young adulthood, and life now in deeply felt, extensively researched, and question-filled prose. --Eloise Kinney
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The book was highly readable, and I think the author underplays his capabilities as a writer when assessing his own talents. Some recollections of events from his past occasionally seemed to have a bit too dramatic of a flair in describing a scene, in the style of some immersion journalism articles you might find in Rolling Stone. But otherwise, Alex gets straight to the point and offers a great glimpse into his thoughtful mind without any pretense. The parts of the book that dragged a bit for me were on topics that I've heard plenty of times before, but that's owing more to my over-familiarity with said topics (lack of Asian males on screen, the perception of them as sexless, etc). The most interesting aspects of the book were looking at Asian figures and interactions with the West further back in history, such as the explorer Zheng He who preceded Columbus by some decades, and theories on the perpetuation of the view of Asians as servile with the wave of Chinese immigrants to the American Wild West. Tizon's recollection of the coverage of the My Lai massacre and the relative indifference to the Killing Fields of Cambodia in American classrooms are examples from more recent history were impactful. Another excerpt that stood out for me was his recollection of a new female Asian coworker at a newsroom where he once worked, who was at first doted over, but was quickly turned on when she showed her competence, independence and ambition. Overall a very eclectic array of experiences and events that meld in what I at least thought was a pretty cohesive package.
As an Asian American man who is about a couple generations removed from when Alex Tizon first came to America, his experiences written on paper elicited a sense of familiarity, while also confirming my belief that I have been relatively fortunate compared to those who came before me. Time has brought positive change, and while there's a long way to go, the trend points to better things. I felt sad at the pathos that still seems to have a grip on Mr. Tizon, although it is one that has loosened and changed as his views on manliness, duty, and life have changed. And as he theorized about the young, confident (at least on the surface) young Asian men that he has met on his Oregon University campus, my relatively sunnier disposition is likely a result of growing up in a more accepting time, with more examples of Asians in high profile positions that are taking steam out of persistent stereotypes.
I know this review has dragged on, but there were many feelings I felt I needed to put on page about this book. And while the subject matter may on the surface may only pertain to Asian males (and females), it's really about larger issues of self-worth and inner confidence, about finding a place in a world that may put their own, often demeaning and limited expectations on you. Really, anyone can get some perspective and some enlightenment from this half biography, half history lesson.
These ideas aren't new; in fact you can find the same painful experiences expressed in Asian online spaces (like reddit, Twitter, and blogs/podcasts). The main difference is that this book is well-written, expressive, and far more introspective than the often inarticulate frustrations of the online space, which is often tinged and muddled by anger, bitterness, and desperation.
I would implore any Asian American (especially men) to give this a read. Non-Asians can learn a lot as well, but our struggles will likely mean nothing to you as our suffering does not impact the rest of the West in any measurable way.