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This chapter explores the expressive possibilities of the early Cold War era by reconsidering C. Y. Lee’s pathbreaking 1957 novel, The Flower Drum Song. Adapted into a Broadway musical in 1958, a Hollywood production in 1961, and then revived on stage in 2002, Lee’s breezy tale has been a source of fascination and vexation for Asian American audiences for decades. This chapter’s reading resituates Lee’s novel within postwar US–Asian relations and the position of Asian America in the early Cold War period in order to reconsider The Flower Drum Song as an exhibit of the narrowed political parameters of the Cold War consensus. In focusing on the political machinations featured in Lee’s novel – and not its afterlives – this chapter reads a critical opening for Asian American expression, but on straitened political terms. At the heart of The Flower Drum Song is a political education that reasons through the necessity of anticommunism; and though the astonishing success of The Flower Drum Song and its adaptations has been taken as evidence of successful domestic incorporation, the exigencies of the postwar political order are on full display in the novel, which both obeys and ironizes Cold War strictures of thought and feeling.
The period from 1930 to 1965 marks a span of dramatic transformation within the United States, from the Great Depression to the new social movements of the 1960s. For Asian American history, the start of this period is deeply marked by Asian exclusion, formalized in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, and, by its end, the emergence of today’s Asian America, remade after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the legislative culmination of multiple efforts to repeal exclusion. On the global stage, these years witnessed dispersed shifts of power that literally remapped the decolonizing world: from the decline of territorial colonialism in the 1930s to the rise of third-world liberation in the 1960s. And in the middle of this period, World War II erupted, sharpening political alignments that would be hastily redrawn in the about-face of the Cold War, which ignited hotspots in Asia after World War II. This volume seeks to draw out the national and global dimensions of the literary output in this period of transitions, realignments, remappings, and remakings.
This volume is devoted to Asian American Literature between 1930 to 1965, a period of immense social, historical, and cultural transformations that continue to shape the conditions of our world. From the Great Depression to the Second World War to the Civil Rights Movement to landmark immigrations reforms, Asian American literature provides unique and insightful perspectives on these historical developments, all while creatively engaging with globally-dispersed decolonization movements. Each chapter, written a by leading figures in their fields, demonstrates how Asian American writing affectingly reveals our complex world and its contested pasts. Case studies of major authors of this era show this as a time when the figure of the Asian American author became newly significant. This volume provides historical grounding, theoretical interventions, and nuanced textual analysis of Asian American literature in this period.
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