Literature

Cultural Appropriation and the Children of ‘Shōgun’

This summer marks the 25th anniversary of the completion of James Clavell’s epic Asian Saga—six novels, totaling 6,240 pages in paperback, published between 1962 and 1993. The high point of the saga was the publication in 1975 of Shōgun. Set in the year 1600, it chronicles the exploits—nautical, martial, political, and erotic—of John Blackthorne, a British seaman who finds himself shipwrecked in feudal Japan along with a few other survivors of the Erasmus, a Dutch pirate ship he helped pilot. By order of publication, Shōgun is the third book of the series, but by internal chronology it is the first. It is also, far and away, the most commercially successful book in the series. By 1980 it had sold more than 6 million copies and become the source of one of the most successful TV miniseries in history. It was preceded by King Rat (1962) and Tai-Pan (1966). It was followed by Noble House (1981), Whirlwind (1986) and GaiJin (1993).

Grady Hendrix’s 2017 book Paperbacks From Hell admirably chronicles the way that a single novel—Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby in 1967—created a boom in cheap paperback horror novels that flourished throughout the 1970s and 80s. Shōgun was the Rosemary’s Baby of a somewhat similar publishing phenomenon. It triggered a boom in massive historical adventure novels set in Asia but generally featuring English-speaking protagonists, usually either Americans or Britons. I’ve long been a big fan of these books which, for lack of a better term, I refer to collectively as ‘The Children of Shōgun.’

Alas, Shōgun didn’t produce nearly as many bastard offspring as Rosemary’s Baby did. It was fairly easy for any professional writer with imagination and a passion for horror stories to turn out a handful of 300-page supernatural thrillers over the course of a couple of decades. Producing a 900-page Shōgun-like epic is another matter entirely. The Children of Shōgun were written mostly by men and women with years of personal experience in Asia. They tended to be journalists or academics with a profound interest in the history and culture of the East. If you were a horror fan in the 1970s and ’80s (and I was), it was easy to find titles to feed your hunger for demonic children, seductive witches, and haunted houses. If you craved massive historical epics featuring singsong girls, opium pipes, rickshaws, treaty ports, forbidden cities, warlords, seppuku, pillow dictionaries, foot binding, and godowns filled with tea or silk or jade, feeding your hunger took a bit more initiative.

Nevertheless, quite a few such books got published between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, and I’ve read dozens of them. The phenomenon seems to have faded over the past 20 years, giving way to other literary booms: vampire novels, fantasy epics, young-adult dystopian series. It is unlikely the boom will ever be revived. In a critical review of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth posted on Goodreads, author Celeste Ng probably spoke for many of today’s progressive readers when she complained about “the weirdness that arises from a Westerner writing about a colonized country.” Apparently it’s all right when an Asian author like Haruki Murakami (whose work I love) writes novels inspired by the likes of Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, and Franz Kafka. But Westerners who write about the adventures of English-speaking protagonists in Asia are likely to be shouted down with accusations of cultural appropriation.

The heyday of the West-meets-East historical saga isn’t likely to return anytime soon, but while it lasted it produced some amazing pieces of fiction, at least a dozen of which surpassed Clavell’s masterpiece. What follow’s is a list of my favorites, many of which are out of print and available only online or upon the dusty shelves of those used-bookstores that still stock decades-old mass-market paperbacks.

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If Robert Duncan is remembered at all these days it’s probably for having co-written (with his wife Wanda) scripts for some of the worst TV shows of the 1960s, including Land of the Giants, Time Tunnel, and The Immortal. He also cranked out about a dozen novels, many of which were derivative of much better-known works. China Dawn (1988), almost alone among his books, seems to have sprung from a well of deep, personal experience. Duncan was with the American Occupying Force that was stationed in Japan after World War II. In a foreword, he mentions this experience and says that he spent forty years writing China Dawn. It shows. The book is full of believable characters and well-drawn recreations of historical events. It must be conceded that the novel is marred by a framing story that takes place in the world of Parisian high fashion circa 1981 and that feels as though it was cribbed from a Judith Krantz novel. But the parts of the story that occur between 1931 and 1945 are riveting. Even though the action takes place mainly in China, the main characters are American and Japanese. Though not the best of Shōguns children, it contains the most horrifying depiction of the Rape of Nanking you are ever likely to find in a popular novel.

Tanamera (1981), by Noel Barber, has as much in common with Gone With the Wind as it does with Shōgun. The title refers to the name of a grand family estate, and if you remove the word ‘name’ from the title, you are left with ‘Tara,’ Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation in Margaret Mitchel’s earlier novel. Set almost entirely in Singapore and Malaysia, Barber’s novel is a towering tale of love and war. The love, as is usually the case in this genre, is interracial. Julie Soong is an admirably courageous, smart, and fairly liberated Chinese woman, although she can sometimes come across as too good to be true. Johnny Dexter, her soul mate, is the heir to a great British trading company located on Singapore. The fathers of Julie and Johnny are friendly business associates but both of them are dead set against any sort of romantic alliance between their offspring. The book does a fine job of delineating the racism of the British occupants of Singapore. Even the wealthy and educated Asians of Singapore are not allowed to play tennis at the British athletic clubs or join British social clubs or dine at British restaurants. To get anything done, Asian businessmen are pretty much forced to partner with a Brit. Punctuated by harrowing action sequences and torrid sex scenes, Tanamera is both deliciously pulpy and rich in historical detail.

Shanghai (1985) by Christopher New is among the best written and most intelligent of the Children of Shōgun. The author was educated at Oxford and Princeton and was a long-time professor of philosophy at Hong Kong University. His familiarity with the culture and people of China informs every page of this long novel, which charts the fortunes of James Denton, a Brit who arrives in Shanghai in 1903 to take a job as a customs inspector. Eventually he becomes an important member of the British business community in China, as well as a leading member of the local governing body in Shanghai. Like nearly every protagonist in novels of this genre, he finds himself embroiled in a decades-long love affair with an Asian native. Reading this novel (which stands alone but is also the first in a loosely connected three-book series) is almost certainly the most entertaining way possible to learn about the rise and fall of the British concession in Shanghai.

Pat Barr’s 1982 novel Jade (I prefer the British title of this novel: Chinese Alice) follows the exploits of Alice Greenwood, who is born in China in 1858 to British missionary parents. It focuses on her rise from childhood rape victim/concubine to proto-feminist firebrand who fights against the practice of foot binding and translates the liberal writings of John Stuart Mill into Chinese. The book has at least as much action, sex, and adventure as Shōgun but, probably because it was written by a woman, the publisher seems to have marketed it as a romance novel rather than a gripping historical novel, thus stranding it between two cultures in much the same way that Alice herself is stranded. The politically correct will be offended by the fact that Alice gradually develops something like love for a man who raped her as a child.

Zemindar (1981) by Valerie Fitzgerald has suffered the same fate as Pat Barr’s Jade. It has always been marketed as a romance novel. It does indeed satisfy many of the conventions of that genre but it is every bit as rigorous in its historical detail as Shōgun. The author was born and raised in British India. Her grandmother lived through the Sepoy uprising and passed along tales of those times to her granddaughter. Fitzgerald lived a long time but never produced another novel.

Omamori (1987) by Richard McGill, is my favorite illegitimate child of Shōgun. Like Fitzgerald, McGill appears to have been a one-book wonder. His author’s bio says very little about him other than that he lives in California and spent seven years researching the novel. The research paid off. The book covers numerous well-known historical events—Kristallnacht, the Rape of Nanking, the atomic bombing of Nagasaki—without ever losing its focus on the small, ordinary lives that were most affected by those catastrophes. And it features not one, but two incredibly moving interracial romances.

Other notable entries in this sub-genre include War Lord (1983) by Malcolm Bosse, which follows—among other things—the fortunes of a young American missionary who is captured by bandits upon his arrival in China; Dynasty (1977) by Robert Elegant, an adventurous tale that follows the fortunes of a Eurasian family in China during the 19th and 20th centuries; and Saigon (1982) by Anthony Grey. Saigon is the angriest child of Shōgun. Nearly every page of Grey’s epic burns with the author’s fury over what was done to the Vietnamese by the French, the U.S., and even the British. Sometimes anger can be the enemy of art, but it works well here.

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One thing that stands out about these authors is that many of them led lives nearly as adventurous as their protagonists. Anthony Grey spent 27 months in a Chinese prison. During his long career in journalism, Noel Barber was stabbed five times and shot in the head once. James Clavell was a prisoner of war during WWII. Robert Elegant covered both the Korean and Vietnam wars as a journalist and Richard Nixon once called him “my favorite China expert.” If books in this genre seem somewhat more convincing than horror novels of the same era, perhaps it’s because no horror novelists of the era were ever actually possessed by Satan, bitten by vampires, or capable of starting fires with their minds. But, while horror novels are still being churned out in large numbers, almost no one is writing Shōgun-like sagas any longer. Soon the genre may cease to exist entirely. If you don’t believe me, consider the decline of the American Indian novel written by white authors.

During much of the twentieth century, white American authors produced some excellent novels featuring Native American characters. The list includes masterpieces such as Oliver La Farge’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Laughing Boy (1929) and Scott O’Dell’s Newbery Medal-winning Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960). Other prominent titles in the genre include Thomas Berger’s 1964 novel Little Big Man (subsequently adapted into a film starring Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway directed by Arthur Penn), Margaret Craven’s I Heard the Owl Call My Name (1967), and Douglas C. Jones’s A Creek Called Wounded Knee (1978).

But the production of such novels has dwindled markedly over the last 40 years or so. This probably has something to do with what happened to Ruth Beebe Hill after the publication of her 1978 novel Hanta Yo. The early reviews of the book were positive. A reviewer for the Harvard Crimson called Hanta Yo “the best researched novel yet written about an American Indian tribe.” Native American author N. Scott Momaday, author of House Made of Dawn, admired the book. David Wolper, the producer of the landmark TV miniseries Roots purchased the film rights to Hanta Yo and planned to give it the same treatment as Roots. Alas, before Wolper could put his plan into action, the book began drawing criticism from Native American groups contending that it was an inaccurate portrayal of the Sioux. A 1980 article in People magazine summarized the controversy like this:

A $2 million class-action suit, filed on behalf of the Sioux people, claims that Hill’s sweeping novel set at the turn of the eighteenth century is demeaning to the Plains Indians. The litigation seeks further to block production of any TV show based on Hanta Yo. Sioux activists have also tried to force the work out of bookstores and libraries and have picketed the author on the lecture circuit, waving signs like HILL HAS A TONTO COMPLEX.

Hill strongly defended her book against the attacks. The article in People points out that she spent nearly 30 years researching the novel and consulted more 700 Indians during that period. Nonetheless, the damage was done. The TV miniseries was never made and the book soon drifted out of print. Although Hill lived to be 102, she would never write another novel. No other white novelist has published a novel about American Indian life anywhere near as ambitious as Hanta Yo in the years since. No doubt the fear of being publicly shamed for ‘cultural appropriation’ has had something to do with it.

More recently, author Laura Moriarty triggered a firestorm when she included an American Muslim character in her young-adult novel American Heart (2018). Because the book’s main character was a white girl, Moriarty was accused of exploiting a ‘white savior’ narrative. According to Ruth Graham of Slate magazine, even before the book was published, it had…

…already attracted the ire of the fierce group of online YA readers that journalist Kat Rosenfield has referred to as ‘culture cops.’ To them, it was an irredeemable problem that Moriarty’s novel, which was inspired in part by Huckleberry Finn, centers on a white teenager who gradually—too gradually—comes to terms with the racism around her. On Goodreads, the book’s top ‘community review,’ posted in September, begins, “fuck your white savior narratives”; other early commenters on Goodreads accused Moriarty of “profiting off people’s pain” and said “a white writer should not have tackled this story, and neither should a white character be the center of it.”

The outcry surrounding Moriarty’s book was so intense that Kirkus took the unprecedented step of removing a positive review of American Heart from its website, even though the review had been written by a Muslim woman who is an authority on young-adult literature.

In the midst of such a cultural moment, few white writers are likely to undertake the tremendous amount of research required to produce a book like Shōgun or Shanghai or Jade knowing that a hostile reception will almost certainly be awaiting them and their novel when (and if) it finally sees the light of day. If you haven’t yet experienced the joys of exploring ‘The Children of Shogun,’ a great literary pleasure still awaits you. But read slowly and linger over each book. No more than a few dozen excellent examples were ever published. And no new titles are likely to appear in the foreseeable future, if Celeste Ng and her ilk have their way.

Featured Pic: James Clavell (YouTube)

 

Kevin Mims is a freelance writer living in Sacramento, CA. His work has appeared in numerous venues including the New York Times, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, Salon, and many others. He has just opened a Twitter account @KevinMims16

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40 Comments

  1. ThereAreDozensOfUs says

    The end game of the ‘culture cops’ has always been segregation of culture under the convenient guise of protecting against ‘cultural appropriation’. Great article and terribly appropriate.

    • David Murphy says

      The culture cops are merely recreating a form of Apartheid. Read about South Africa’s apartheid system and the theory that ostensibly underpinned it and you say it mirrored in the modern day cultural appropriation shrieking,

  2. Galileo’sdaughter says

    Does this mean that Kazuo Ishiguro, of Japanese birth and ethnicity, who writes extensively about English society will have to give back his Booker prizes and Nobel prize for literature? I’d like to know the thoughts of Celeste Ng and her fellow racist travelers about that.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Only pale skinned people from Western cultures can be racist and bigoted. Of course explain that to the Japanese descendants of Koreans living in the islands, native Uighurs and Tibetans, etc. etc. . . .

  3. James says

    But Kevin…you forgot about the best historical adventure series of them all…George Macdonald Frasers “Flashman” series.
    Otherwise I agree with the sentiment; these are a brilliant form of literature that has being choked out of modern literature in the name of political correctness.

    • Ron M says

      Ha! I searched specifically on “Flashman” to see if it was mentioned in the article and only found your comment. Though I dare say it’s politically incorrect by design.

  4. When the west borrows from other cultures, it is cultural appropriation. When other cultures borrow from the west, it is cultural imperialism.

    “The Good Earth” is an outstanding novel and is highly recommended to anyone who wants to know about China. Pearl S. Buck grew up among Chinese in China, from the time she was 5 months old until she left to go to university. Celeste Ng is the latest in a long line of haters that spans decades. Let’s ask the good authoress herself what she has to say:

    “One of the isolating factors of my own experience has been that some of the morbidly sensitive modern Chinese, especially those abroad in foreign countries, have not liked it that I have written of the everyday life of their people. In all justice to them I must say that this attitude has changed in the last two years very much, so that I have ardent friends among these, but certainly The Good Earth at first displeased many Chinese in the United States. In China itself it was accepted without dislike except that it was a foreigner who wrote it. It was often said there, “It is a book which a Chinese should have written.” But among the Chinese in my own country, who felt they had the honour of their country to uphold, it made distress. They had to deny it, to criticize it, to struggle against it. This also was as astonishing to me as the letter from the Fundamentalist board member. Apparently with the simplest purpose in the world, namely, merely to write novels, surely a harmless necessity for a novelist, and without any sense of wrongdoing, I was able to infuriate an astonishingly large number of people.”

    — Pearl S. Buck, “Advice to a Novelist About to Be Born” (1935)

    • TarsTarkas says

      Your first sentences are all that need to be said on both subjects. It isn’t a stick the western culture haters beat us with; it’s a quarterstaff. And if you criticize them for hypocrisy, they claim victimhood and that you are a vicious bigoted bully.

  5. Jim Frank says

    Writing is about the relationship between the writer and the reader as much as about the subject addressed. There is always a translation of the writer’s exprience in a way that the reader can understand and relate to. Translations are always best when the final tanslation is done by a native speaker of the target reader’s language and culture. I think of Cheverolet’s mistake of naming their model Nova (¡No va!). That didn’t travel well in the Spanish speaking world. This demand that all writing about a culture must be done by natives of that culture breaks that connection to the reader and can only lead to more misunderstanding.

  6. Mike Walsh says

    There will always be a market for bad taste and hack novels. But I’m disappointed to see the praise of these soggy doorstoppers in Quillette. Always remember John Gardener’s rule: “To write junk fiction one must have an authentic junk mind.” And to read it, as well, I suppose. Regarding Asia, read instead anything by Timothy Mo (NB “An Insular Possession”).

    • Mark Beal says

      “In one sense, at any rate, it is more valuable to read bad literature than good literature. Good literature may tell us the mind of one man; but bad literature may tell us the mind of many men.” – G.K. Chesterton

    • Bab says

      At least he didnt mention Eric van Lustbader’s white ninja novels. I confess I did read some of them, but in my defence, I was twelve at the time.

  7. dirk says

    The chances of another Madame Butterfly opera are next to zero, because the whole idea of exotism (orientalism etc etc) is disappearing in the West, also among youngsters, I sense. We fly in half day to Bali, Nepal and Vietnam, and have a nice holiday there, without the slightest interest in the Other. And, yes, also that Other is vanishing now! Instead, the cosmopolite, world citizen appears on the scene, rich or poor, christian or heathen, dressed in T-shirt and on slippers, doesn’t matter anymore. No more cultural appropriation, also that will hasten the process. No more antrhopologists needed, or even tolerated! Poor villagers (what exactly is/was their culture? who can or dares to explain?) from African nations and Afghanistan step on rubber boats and knock on our doors. Not the shoguns, of course, they westernized and caught up with us.

    There was a time, not very long ago, that anthropologists taught us, in the humanity classes, on the other, so very far away (5 weeks boat trip and often also many miles of dirtroad separated from our cosy West). The culturally different tribes and regions. Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict enlightened us with the Others, of which we even could learn a few things. Nobody reads them any more. The few remaining anthropologists publish in dull scientific journals!

    • peanut gallery says

      With the internet the world is your neighbor (filtered into your clique) and your neighbor is the other. (You do not know them, you did not introduce yourself when they moved in)

  8. jkl says

    Well before Shogub there were Sandokan and Lord Jim not to mention Rene, Atala and the Natchetz

  9. ga gamba says

    Though Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe created the genre, I recall it was Leon Uris who I first encountered. Though he’s famous for his books about Israel and the Middle East, he also wrote a lot about Ireland though having no ties to the country. James Michener’s Centennial was an entertaining read for me as a child who had little interest in the American west – I still remember the passage about the bison rutting. Clavell’s King Rat is terrific. If you’re looking for an Asian writer check out F. Sionil Jose’s five novels collectively called the Rosales Saga, which covers Philippine history. He has several other historical fiction novels worth one’s attenton too.

    Though not historical fiction per se, Tom Sharpe’s Riotous Assembly and Riotous Assembly are brilliantly satirical books about the South African police and apartheid.

    I think the travel book written by westerners such as Paul Theroux will also come to be frowned upon and dismissed as poverty porn and exoticism in the near future. His Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, and many others are terrific.

    Re the pomo types, they really aren’t consistent, are they? They adhere to the my truth, your truth, his/her truth gambit, which ought to be receptive to a writer’s experience, yet then they play the authenticity game (Hallelujah! There is the truth after all.) when the writer is the wrong skin colour. There’s no way one writer could cover an entire nation’s entire history in its entirety. It’s merely a power play that ought to be ignored, but white cosmopolitans are fearful of being scolded as racist. They won’t be invited to cocktail parties and their children will be shunned for play dates.

    There’s a reason why we’re being inundated with all the superheroes, sci-fi, and vampires, and it’s due to these subjects less likely to offend. Don’t worry publishing houses and Hollywood studios. They’ll concoct ways to be offended yet.

    • ga gamba says

      Sorry, Sharpe’s second book about South Africa is Indecent Exposure.

    • “Though Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe created the genre”

      Well he didn’t as others got there first, and neither was Ivanhoe his first such work. Popularized it certainly, created the genre – that is quite a stretch. The romance tradition was well and alive and Don Quxote is clearly a major influence.

      “There’s a reason why we’re being inundated with all the superheroes, sci-fi, and vampires, and it’s due to these subjects less likely to offend.”

      And the degradation of and shift in culture. Although such things can be far more easily illustrated for a visual medium, so that is at least a valid excuse. But with the disregard for the old classics and the dumbing down of education, the rise of such infantilism was inevitable.

      • O.R Ange says

        A part of me thinks that this infantilism started with Harry Potter. I imagine it does go back before then but that book was the first one that struck me as defining of the up and coming generations and paved the way for The Hunger Games, Twilight, and more. What I think these books and then the subsequent hero movies have in common is that they are about teens or adults that behave like teens. It is a bit sad that the flagship hero of the Marvel Cinematic universe is a narcissistic player. The irony is not lost on me that comics and movies play highly into this Social Justice narrative while Tony Stark and Donald Trump would be similar literary characters.

        However, science fiction still has the ability to present views. Though at the moment most of the voices are Progressivist, literature from Heinlein and others could have a libertarian and free speech lean or a classical liberal lean. It just takes an artist or author to do so. These books could be created again, but it would be through kickstarter or patreon.

        I agree though, the classics are extremely important. We disregard them at our peril.

        • @ O.R Ange

          “A part of me thinks that this infantilism started with Harry Potter.”

          No! Young Adult and Children’s fiction has always existed. And best of it does deserve adult readership. Twain, RL Stevenson, Kipling and others. Peter pan! And lots more. There isn’t one book or aspect of culture that is outright to blame here. And zeroing in on such minute detail sort of demerits the argument.

          “but that book was the first one that struck me as defining of the up and coming generations and paved the way for The Hunger Games, Twilight, and more.”

          But such books have been written well before that. And HP is certainly the best of them and is a great story.

          – –

          Infantilism is not dealing with complex ideas and reducing everything to simplicity and wallowing in it. But, it seems to me, this culture has accelerated due to a few things. Postmodernism and all that malarchy – trigger warnings, safe spaces, pc, erasing culture and etc. And other is religion and not replacing what religion covered with secular equivalents.

          – –

          “However, science fiction still has the ability to present views. Though at the moment most of the voices are Progressivist”

          I subscribe mostly to art for art’s sake and for it not to be a tool for morality.

      • ga gamba says

        You’re right, it wasn’t Ivanhoe. It was Scott’s Waverly that’s credited with being the first historical fiction novel.

        Don Quixote is credited with being the first modern novel, which is no small feat; actually it’s a greater feat. DQ is a story masquerading as history. It takes the romantic tales of knights’s quests, i.e. fantasy fiction, which don’t have the level of historical accuracy of what is deemed to be historical fiction, and then satires it. For his part, Don Quixote refuses to believe the adventure stories he reads are not historically accurate. The bland Spanish countryside is depicted as one of excitement and adventure; windmills are transformed into giants and inns made into castles.

        What is most historically accurate of DQ is its use of overblown language used to ridicule the type of grandiose language used in these chivalrous knights’ tales.

        • Thanks for the link! Came across whole host of interesting sounding women writers that I had never heard of before.

  10. Mark Beal says

    If this goes on, what will happen eventually is that the only books (films, music, etc) that don’t attract opprobrium will be so hopelessly bland and uninteresting that no sensible person will want to pay money for them. For that reason part of me thinks, let the madness run, because eventually the bottom line will tell publishers, movie studios and the rest how insidious the identity politics line is. Unfortunately I also think far too much damage would be done in the meantime.

    More specifically, the cultural appropriation argument is a nonsense. Firstly, if someone is influenced by the work of someone of a different culture, or by living in a different culture than their own and produces something of quality and worth – great! Secondly, sometimes it takes an outsider to see things in a culture (or group) that those who are brought up or embedded in it take for granted or are blind to. Thirdly, there’s nothing inherently iniquitous about a person using their unique experience of a foreign culture, regardless of their position in any given hierarchy, as a way of understanding themselves and their relationship to the world and sharing that with others – George Orwell springs to mind.

    And what would the sixties have been if random white blokes in Liverpool, Newcastle, London hadn’t been infatuated with the music of black guys in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama? All of popular music is built on some form of so-called cultural appropriation, if you think about it.

  11. And men who write women characters are also under the microscope – how dare they presume. But if the same man claims to be a woman, well that’s perfectly logical, and to be celebrated.

    Pearl Buck could have simply “identified” as chinese.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Unfortunately according to the SJWs non-POC people (or POCs that have Uncle Tommed, i.e. bought into the ‘patriarchal culture’) cannot legitimately identify as anything other than they are, whereas the reverse is not true.

  12. dirk says

    There was a time (long after my obsession with the exotic and the primitive, far away, in bush an desert) that I started reading the novels by the locals themselves, Petals of Blood, Facing Mount Kenya, and other African and Latin American literature. But I didn’t enjoy them half as much as the books about them (Out of Africa) written by my European or American countrymen.
    I just can’t stand the irritant and larmoyant tone so often displayed in these novels, the accusing discourses. Same thing (though not exotic and far away) for novels by Baldwin. I like the well known lens of my fellow folks, even if that means a lot of bias.

  13. “No other white novelist has published a novel about American Indian life anywhere near as ambitious as Hanta Yo in the years since.”

    Tony Hillerman wrote a bunch of them and his daughter Anne is continuing the series. The Navajo people mostly like the novels a lot and feel that Hillerman did a great job of representing their culture and people.

    And any list of great novels about American Indians by white authors absolutely has to include Frank Waters’ “The Man Who Killed the Deer”, which is about a man from Taos Pueblo in the 1930s. (The novel never says that the unnamed pueblo to which the man belongs is Taos, but it is obvious to anyone who knows anything about Taos.) I don’t know if the Taos people as a whole have ever expressed appreciation for Waters’ novel, but the pueblo member whom I asked if the novel was set in Taos certainly did.

  14. C Young says

    Has anyone here ever encountered someone, in person, who worried about cultural appropriation ?

    Not sure I can summon the energy to be annoyed about this.

    • O.R. Ange says

      When I was abroad, during Peace Corps service, I encountered a lot of it from American volunteers and Fullbright scholars. It would normally be second or third generation minorities or far-left white people who would do it. One girl who was probably 23 years old gave a long presentation on intersectionality, which was a mask for black oppression in the United States. It was a graduate level presentation to people who had an intermediate level of English. However, the Fullbright scholars worried me the most because they were within the school and university systems and had a hand at changing curriculum. One of the guys who worked in an English department attached to mine would almost always say “I’m speaking from a position of privilege.” as if he was flagellating himself before getting into any discussion.

    • derek says

      You might ask the Senior editor Toronto of this site. He was driven from an editor position at a Canadian magazine for not toeing the appropriate line on this issue.

  15. When I was in college, I sat my eager ass in a front row desk in my very first Sociology class. There I learned about cultural appropriation. However, what I learned was that cultural appropriation was the act of taking something *sacred* of a different cultural and turning it into a commodity.

    Over the last few years the deffinition of CA became what amounts to “when white people like things from no white cultures.” Madonna using Catholic roseries as jewelry has more to do with CA than any fiction writer with an intimate understanding over another culture.

  16. V 2.0 says

    These sound awesome. Adding all of them to my summer reading list (if Amazon doesn’t have them I’m sure repeated trips to the thrift store will turn up something).

    As for all this fuss about cultural appropriation, I noticed a lot of these are written as someone encountering the ‘foreign’ culture and not exactly speaking for it. How is that appropriation? Are we not supposed to interact with people who have ways different from our own? If so, can we get rid of all the tedious immigrant novels that seem to infest ‘serious’ literature these days, or at least edit out any parts where the immigrant characters are inevitably hard done by thanks to the racist/sexist/ignorant citizens of the country that welcomed them in? I don’t want anyone to appropriate my culture or speak for my people, thanks very much.

  17. dirk says

    In the 1980s, maybe under influence of ripened hippies, I saw for the first time women tourists at the Kenya coast resorts that painted themselves with henna, like the Somali and Swahili girls and women, but for them it had a special meaning. For the tourists, it was just fun. I found it at the time highly inappropriate. Now, I don’t know what to say about it anymore. What’s more important maybe, what do the Swahili themselves think of it? I doubt whether they even know of the discussions and feelings on CA. It’s mainly a white (but contaminating the minorities in the west of course) and western concern, and moreover, an academic, intellectual one.

  18. This was a nice change of pace as far as articles on Quillette go. I was fascinated with Asia as a teen and read some Clavell, but I preferred the more sensational stuff. Eric Van Lustbader’s The Ninja and subsequent sequels were among my favorites.

    • I have also enjoyed van Lustbader’s Shan in the mid-2000s, K. And it came first to my mind when thinking of Shogun-like epics.

  19. Bab says

    One of the interesting things about this particular crusade is the implicit rejection of multiculturalism by certain segments of the Left, whereas normally that is the province of the Right.

    For example, Pearl Buck should not write about China, even though she was born and raised there, because she’s not really Chinese. Neither should Alexander McCall Smith write novels about Africans, even though he was born there and identifies as African, because he’s not really African. A white person cannot be an authentic Asian or an African.

    The obvious flip-side to this sort of logic doesn’t seem to be much considered by the social justice left, but then again, they’re not a very reflective bunch.

  20. dirk says

    And what about Isaac Dinesen, the Danish author of Out of Africa? She did not try to write as an African (black), but as a Western plantation owner with black personel, for whom she felt a lot of concern, curiosity and sympathy. I saw he moovie in Nairobi, there were outcries of disbelief and disgust of the (black) audience, because of the subservient , rather irrelevant role they played in that moovie (especially the funny and primitive way of clothing, even if it was in historic times) in THEIR OWN COUNTRY, that is. In schools, they are taught quite different things about who made, liberated and organised their lands. In European theaters, the reactions were quite different, of course, but I tried to explain to some of them how the moovie was received in Nairobi. I didn’t succeed to get my point true, people are just not able to put themselves in the skin and role of times and situations bygone, I fear.
    What, the hell!! are schools (there, but also ours) teaching the youngsters????

  21. Martti O. Suomivuori says

    Getting rid of Goodreads is not easy. I really hate the general atmosphere and I tried to close my account but nothing stops their emails from coming. A bunch of nasties, nothing good about them.
    Of course, the right thing to would be trying to win it back but I really do not care.
    Who are they to say what I should read or think? I never gave them the permission.

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