Rachel Khong on What Makes a Real American

By LARB Radio HourJune 7, 2024

Rachel Khong on What Makes a Real American
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Rachel Khong joins Eric Newman to discuss her latest novel, Real Americans. Divided into three parts that each trace the experiences of different generations of a Chinese American family, the book delves into the thickets of identity, exploring how cultural strictures and the chaos of love shape our reality. The first section, set in 1999, recounts the romance between Lily, a second generation Chinese American media intern in New York, and Matthew, the WASPy private equity investor of the company where she struggles to eke out a living. The second section transports us to Seattle in 2021, where Lily's son, Nick, is navigating the end of high school and early college years with his father, Matthew, conspicuously absent. When Nick reconnects with Matthew through a DNA ancestry test, old wounds heal even as new ones are opened up in the wake of long-buried family secrets. In the final section, Nick's grandmother reflects on her experience fleeing Mao Zedong's China to make a new life in the United States, while trying to reconcile with a tattered and scattered family in present-day San Francisco. As these three lives are woven together and torn apart, Real Americans moves propulsively through questions of race, class, and gender as its characters work to understand their relationship to inheritance, variously conceived, around the tripwires of silence, desire, and pain.

Also, Erik Davis, author of Blotter: The Untold Story of an Acid Medium, returns to recommend Dale Pendell's Pharmako Trilogy.

LARB Contributor

The LARB Radio Hour is hosted by Eric Newman, Medaya Ocher, and Kate Wolf.

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