Frank Chin has made significant contributions in many genres, including the plays The Chickencoop Chinaman (pr. 1972, pb. 1981) and The Year of the Dragon (pr. 1974, pb. 1981), the novels Gunga Din Highway (1994) and Donald Duk, the short-story collection The Chinaman Pacific and Frisco R.R. Co. (1988), and the social criticism collection Bulletproof Buddhists, and Other Essays (1998). He has also coedited both Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (1974) and The Big Aiiieeeee! (1991). Despite or possibly because of this “multigenre” success, his novels have perhaps not received the attention that—at least in the case of Donald Duk—they eminently deserve. Chin’s public and contentious verbal sparring with noted Chinese American novelists Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan has not endeared him or his work to literary critics or college professors, who often—rightfully, most would say—teach Kingston and Tan while perhaps relegating Chin to the role of critic and editor rather than a major voice in the contemporary novel.
In any case, Donald Duk works well and can be viewed initially as simply a charming bildungsroman, recounting the coming of age of a precocious, introspective Chinese American young man in San Francisco. However, the text also introduces a palette of Asian American historical events, legacies, and themes, beginning with the nineteenth century exploitation of Chinese laborers, first in the gold fields of California then during the construction of the transcontinental railroad. The distortion of...
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