Winner of the 2020 Asian American Studies Book Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities and Cultural Studies: Literary Studies, sponsored by the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS).
Inscrutable Belongings brings together formalist and contextual modes of critique to consider narrative strategies that emerge in queer Asian North American literature. Stephen Hong Sohn provides extended readings of fictions involving queer Asian North American storytellers, looking to texts including Russell Leong's "Camouflage," Lydia Kwa's Pulse, Alexander Chee's Edinburgh, Nina Revoyr's Wingshooters, and Noël Alumit's Letters to Montgomery Clift. Despite many antagonistic forces, these works' protagonists achieve a revolutionary form of narrative centrality through the defiant act of speaking out, recounting their "survival plots," and enduring to the very last page. These feats are made possible through their construction of alternative social structures Sohn calls "inscrutable belongings."
Collectively, the texts that Sohn examines bring to mind foundational struggles for queer Asian North Americans (and other socially marginalized groups) and confront a broad range of issues, including interracial desire, the AIDS/HIV epidemic, transnational mobility, and postcolonial trauma. In these texts, Asian North American queer people are often excluded from normative family structures and must contend with multiple histories of oppression, erasure, and physical violence, involving homophobia, racism, and social death. Sohn's work makes clear that for such writers and their imagined communities, questions of survival, kinship, and narrative development are more than representational—they are directly tied to lived experience.
About the author
Stephen Hong Sohn is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside.
"In this groundbreaking, meticulously researched book, Stephen Hong Sohn teases out how specific formal strategies in novels by queer Asian North American writers are used to develop and explore alternative kinship networks, forms of social recognition, and survival plots in the face of physical death as well social death, in which a Asian North American LGBTQ existence literally cannot be imagined. In its theorizing of queer racial formalisms, Inscrutable Belongings is the genuine melding of narrative theory, queer theory, and ethnic studies that we have been waiting for."
—Sue J. Kim, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
"In this book, Stephen Sohn takes not only an interethnic but a continental approach, analyzing fiction by Asian American, Asian Canadian, and mixed-race queer authors, while paying careful attention to subtle national differences. Concerning itself with the complex interplay of aesthetics, ethics, and politics, Inscrutable Belongings is a vitally important intervention in Asian North American and queer literary studies."
—Donald C. Goellnicht, McMaster University
"Sohn's book is a valuable addition to Queer Asian American Studies because it not only advances an optimistic vision of queer lives but also pieces together a unique textual archive composed of novels by queer-identifying authors that we don't see very often in the field."
—Kai Hang Cheang, Criticism