The Diasporic Inheritance of 'Postmemory' and Immigrant Shame in the Novels of Larissa Lai

Malissa Phung


In this article, I explore how diasporic subjectivity emerges in adopted and assimilated Chinese characters in Larissa Lai’s When Fox Is a Thousand and Salt Fish Girl. Though Lai’s characters have never experienced a traumatic catastrophe or dispersion from the homeland, they still represent compelling figures for theorising diaspora. Drawing on Lily Cho and Marianne Hirsch, I argue that what makes this “postgeneration” diasporic is an ongoing process of discovering and mending an always tenuous relationship to the past: past histories and traumas of displacement and dispossession that they inherit, directly or indirectly, from previous generations, and past origins that they may repress due to the present-day experience of immigrant shame. Discussing how Lai’s characters inherit "postmemory," I also suggest that the experience of queer pleasure associated with sharing and recuperating the olfactory and gustatory source of their immigrant shame is essential to the emergence of their diasporic consciousness.


diaspora; race; gender; sexuality; postgeneration; postmemory; immigrant shame

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