Book Review: Minor Feelings

Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings is anything but minor. As an Asian woman, specifically one who hopes to pursue English graduate studies, I was continually awed by Hong’s veracity and honesty with her experiences. Minor Feelings may be part memoir, part essay, but it packs what I would argue is a significant chapter of Asian American reconciliation and history.

Hong’s story begins with an exploration of her Korean roots and adapting to a new life in America. Moreover, the long history of Asian erasure and assimilation into whiteness is a key component of Minor Feelings, even when it’s being displayed through small vignettes. While the stereotypes surrounding Koreans living in L.A. in the 1980s affected Hong’s family, one aspect unique to Hong’s story is that she discusses the pressures on Asian American authors from the publishing industry. She acknowledges that publishers “expect authors to privatize their trauma: an exceptional family or historic tragedy tests the character before they arrive at a revelation of affirmation” (Hong, pg. 49). These early sections, along with the ones that focused on her time during graduate school, are some of the most memorable and poignant. This perhaps is one of the reasons Minor Feelings is astute in its execution, while also not allowing itself to be categorized by any genre or specific narrative. I appreciated how Hong drew from the likes of other lesser-known Asian artists and authors through advocating for their stories to be told; particularly ones whose stories have been erased from history.

Moreover, Hong explores how the concept of how Asian Americans have become a political identity. One of the most important conclusions of the book for me was at the end when Hong notes that she had never been satisfied with immigrant talking points of “not belonging” or “in-betweenness”, a sentiment that I felt as well. It is a narrative that has situated itself around points of Asian American discourse. I appreciated how Hong’s viewpoints on the Asian immigrant experience acknowledged the proximity to neoliberal tendencies and proximity to whiteness.

Minor Feelings is a book that demands to be felt, but not in the way that most essays do. While the last sections of the book felt more disconnected from the beginning, I nevertheless felt a connection between all the chapters that resonated deeply with the emotional and political feelings of what it means to be Asian American.

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