Vanessa Hua is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and the author of a novel, A River of Stars, a national bestseller and best books pick by NPR and the Washington Post, and a short story collection, Deceit and Other Possibilities. For two decades, she has been writing about Asia and the diaspora. She has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, a Steinbeck Fellowship in Creative Writing, as well as honors from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Asian American Journalists’ Association. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. A Bay Area native, she works and teaches at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.
Lin would always belong to dirty and cramped Beijing but here she could give herself away. If she returned to China, she could already picture the rest of her life. A baby, living in high-rise apartments with her parents, she and Sang advancing toward middle management, growing old, and playing with her own grandchild someday. Comfortable but predictable. Here, there was discovery, uncertainty, possibility.
Writing for my hometown newspaper, both reporting about Asian-American issues and now as a columnist, I have a very palpable sense from the letters and emails I get. But I’m always so surprised and moved by who I might hear from as an author. I’ll hear from people who say: “This is my experience totally. I feel the shock of recognition.” And then there are people who say “I’m not Asian, I’m not a woman, I’m none of these things, but I am deeply moved by this and can relate to this on a human level.”
I remember getting a really lovely note from a reader who said, “I’m engaged to someone Korean and my brother is engaged to someone Italian. Immigration is part of our family story. Thank you for writing a book that helps illuminate my understanding about it.” I still haven’t gotten over the fact that people I don’t know are reading my fiction. Because at least with journalism, you know, it’s about the news. People need to read it or are supposed to read it. But fiction is totally optional.
Family, loyalty, love, lust: Vanessa Hua does justice to the big themes in this noteworthy debut. Yet she also succeeds by keeping it local; her city of San Francisco is a constant companion in these ten stories, lending her work authenticity and empathy. An award-winning columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Hua knows the immigrant communities that she writes about. She never resorts to ethnic caricatures. Instead, she writes her subjects’ stories as they must be told. Their choices, no matter how detrimental, are portrayed with understanding. And their deceptions, however dishonest, feel like the truth.