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Specters of war: Reclamation, recovery, and return in southeast Asian -American literature and history

Bunkong Tuon, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In "Specters of War: Reclamation, Recovery, and Return in Southeast Asian-American Literature and History," I examine life stories, autobiographies, poems, and a film by and about refugees and their children from Cambodia, Viet Nam, and Laos. Engaging with the works of Lisa Lowe, David Palumbo-Liu, Cathy Caruth, and Kathleen Brogan, I argue that the historical experience of war and immigration for Southeast Asian-Americans produces three specific narrative moments: reclamation, recovery, and return. I begin the dissertation by exploring Bakhtinian poetics in the writings of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Houston A. Baker, Jr., and King-kok Cheung in Chapter 1. Specifically, I use Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of double-voiced discourse to discuss what I call "ethnic intertextuality" in the cultural productions of US ethnic writers. Chapter 2 examines how double-voiced discourse as a textual property allows Cambodian-American writers Loung Ung and Chanrithy Him to re-present the voice of the Cambodian Genocide victims in their testimonial works. A discussion of how and why Le Ly Hayslip and Loung Ung turn to storytelling and activism as vehicles for agency, empowerment, and healing takes place in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 addresses how memories of the traumatic past return to haunt Southeast Asian refugees in Lan Cao's Monkey Bridge and le thi diem thuy's The Gangster We Are All Looking For. Using the life stories found in Sucheng Chan's Hmong Means Free and Usha Welaratna's Beyond the Killing Fields, I examine the socio-political forces that produce desire for home in Southeast Asian refugees in Chapter 5. I conclude this final chapter with a discussion of the return trips made by Southeast Asian-Americans in Andrew Pham's Catfish and Mandala and Spencer Nakasako's documentary Refugee.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Asian literature|American literature

Recommended Citation

Tuon, Bunkong, "Specters of war: Reclamation, recovery, and return in southeast Asian -American literature and history" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3336946.