Liu is a Chinese-American writer who wrote the books Face and
1) What do you feel about Asian writers, and of them as compared to their Western counterparts.
I am afraid that my frame of reference is limited primarily to authors who write or are translated into English, so I hesitate to comment on Asian writers in general. I do think that, among much of the Asian and some Asian-American writing I have read, the works tend to operate on more levels than typically Western works. Many include references to mythology and folktale, historical figures, citations of poetry and history. This results in greater intricacy but can, at the same time, make them less accessible to readers from other cultures. This pattern can also create a formal distance between reader and character that is opposite to the mission of Western literature to get "inside" the character. Clearly, this formal distance and multi-layering is strongest in traditional and classical works. And my reading in this area is limited, but I have some familiarity with the work of Lu Xun, Li-Yu, poems of the late T'ang, and recently, from India "Umrao Jan Ada." I also had some of my own grandfather's classical Chinese anecdotes translated (he was Liu Yu-sheng 1875-1951), and found the frequent interspersing of poetic verse and historical allusion to be very difficult for me as a Western reader.
It is my orientation to Western literature -- or at least my greater
familiarity with it -- that makes me prefer a more direct approach in writing.
Character and story are paramount. The goal of most Western literature
is to probe human emotion and behavior, and language itself is important
primarily as a means to this end. Also, it seems to me that the typical
Western writer relies on personal experience and emotion more than many
Asian writers. This may be a limitation of Western literature, however
it is generally necessary, given the goal of emotional truth in writing.
2)However, there is a stereotype that Western writers write mainly from imagination and on fantasy, science-fiction, horror etc, while Asian writers write on more practical issues or based on daily experiences. Do you think that this could be because of the different kinds of writing they are exposed to?
I think there is quite a lot of fantasy/supernatural among Asian writing. I also think that the stereotype about Western writing may come from the types of books that are most frequently translated from English and exported abroad -- that is to say, thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, horror, and fantasy. As I tend to read none of these books, I could not comment on them, though I agree that most are probably invented.
My orientation is toward literary fiction, which, just as you say, is
based on daily life and real human experience. Among writing of quality,
I think the themes of human comedy, tragedy, hardship, love and loss and
war are universal. Only the cultural contexts, the external forces change.
3) How do you feel about being a Asian and Western writers? Does this affect the themes or plots of your books?
My first two novels have dealt directly with the contradictions and overlaps between Chinese and American culture. I am a product of both, and I owe a great deal to both heritages. In FACE, Chinese culture was filtered through the matrix of New York's Chinatown. I utilized Chinese folktales to illustrate both the kinship of Chinatown with "Old China" and the gap between Eastern and Western experience. My main character was both beneficiary and victim of this gap.
In CLOUD MOUNTAIN, the struggle between East and West reflects more
directly the struggle within my own family. The main characters are closely
based on my paternal grandparents. The book itself is my attempt to embrace
and acknowledge both of these individuals. I suppose it could be construed
as a means of ancestor worship, however I consider it primarily a good
story and secondarily an attempt to resolve various conflicts and misunderstandings
within my family.
4) What about the themes and plots the Asian and Western writers explore? Do they have any differences or similarities?
Family life, love, political intrigue, power, desire, passion. These
are themes the world over. The differences lie in the approach and handling
of these themes. I think much Asian writing tends toward indirection --
taking an oblique approach to character and theme. Western writers tend
to focus much more directly. I struggle to find a hppy medium.
5) Your books, Face and Cloud Mountain, are well known and are of themes regarding asian lifestyles etc. , so do you write more on such themes based on mostly truths, or if not, what other themes do you explore?
I'm not sure I understand this question. My first two novels reflect
true experience, some of which is my own or my family's, some of which
is derived from historical research. I fictionalize to make scenes come
to life, to make the story flow, but I anchor my stories on fact as much
6) Besides yourselves, what are some other prominent Asian writers.
Contemporary? Again, I am most familiar with Asian American writers.
I admire Maxine Hong Kingston, Belle Yang, Lisa See, Jung Chang, Sky Lee,
and the Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto. There are a great many wonderful
writers whose work I have not yet read, however, as the bulk of my reading
time is devoted to research.
7) How do you feel about the comparisons given about you with another Chinese-American writer, Amy Tan?
I'm not actually aware of any comparisons. However, in America, there is a tendency to lump any and all "Chinese-American" writing with Amy Tan. My stories are very different from hers, as is my writing style. It is my hope that, as more and more Asians and Asian-Americans are published in the West, this reflexive comparison will stop.