Fox Girl by Nora Okja KellerFox Girl by Nora Okja Keller

Fox Girl

byNora Okja Keller

Paperback | March 25, 2003

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Nora Okja Keller, the acclaimed author of Comfort Woman, tells the shocking story of a group of young people abandoned after the Korean War. At the center of the tale are two teenage girls—Hyun Jin and Sookie, a teenage prostitute kept by an American soldier—who form a makeshift family with Lobetto, a lost boy who scrapes together a living running errands and pimping for neighborhood girls. Both horrifying and moving, Fox Girl at once reveals another layer of war's human detritus and the fierce love between a mother and daughter.
Nora Okja Keller was born in Seoul, Korea, and now lives in Hawaii with her husband and two daughters. She received the Pushcart Prize in 1995 for "Mother Tongue," a piece from her first novel, Comfort Woman, winner of a 1998 American Book Award.
Title:Fox GirlFormat:PaperbackPublished:March 25, 2003Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142001961

ISBN - 13:9780142001967

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Read from the Book

I dream of her still.It's been years since I've seen her, my oldest friend and truest enemy, but she drifts through my sleep almost nightly. Though her face is usually hidden, my heart recognizes her. "Sookie," I call out, voiceless as if underwater. She turns and all I can see are her teeth gleaming white in the blackness. Her mouth stretches wide, smiling, as if she is happy to see me. But even in my dream, it doesn't seem right, her joy doesn't fit. And then I notice how pointy her teeth are, how they are fangs, really, and how through the slightly open mouth, they are glistening, as if about to take a bite.When I wake, I try to envision her face, but her features melt into one another; I see a smudge of black hair, dark eyes, a smear of mouth as if through churning waves. Or as if through several layers of photographic negatives: Sookie at eight when we fought Lobetto in the ditch behind her apartment; at fourteen, peeking out from under the paper bag she had put on her head when we went to Dr. Pak's VD clinic; at seventeen when, with her mother's makeup smeared over her face, she taught me about "honeymooning" in the backbooths of the GI clubs; at twenty when she pushed a wet and wailing Myu Myu into my arms and told me, "She's your daughter now." In every memory I have of her, I can hear her words, see her gestures, but her face remains a fragmented blur.I've written to her-postcards, a line or two on the back of photos of Myu Myu, who wants to be called Maya now. I indulge the child to make up for the beginning of her life, watching her carefully for signs of developmental delays, erratic behavior, eccentricities that could be blamed on me. I am the only mother Maya knows, but for me, in the shadows, there will always be another. These letters are my guilt payment, I suppose, and one day I will send them, these years' worth of notes, to her, care of Club Foxa Hawai'i.One day, when it is safe, I would like to see Sookie again, once more, face-to-face, so that I can reconcile her in my memory and banish her from my dreams. Maybe after enough time has passed, I could see her clearly, without money or love or other people's vision clouding my eyes.i1When we were children, everyone in Chollak thought Sookie was ugly; this is what I loved most about her. Her ugliness-bulbous eyed and dark skinned-was greater than mine and shielded me to some degree. "Gundong-hi, ssang-dong-i," the neighborhood boys teased as we walked the path from school. "The Butt Twins," they called us. Sookie covered her ears-bony elbows sticking out like a kite-and I tucked the stained side of my face into my shoulder. Reasoning that they couldn't call me ugly if they didn't see the birthmark, I turned my good side toward the taunting and let the teasing fall on my friend."Blackie, black dog," they shouted at her. Sookie, hands still over her ears, would recite the alphabet."Your father must be a U.S. darkie!" the boys spat at us. Even Lobetto, whose father was a black GI and whose skin was darker than Sookie's, teased her since at least he had a father."Eh, chokka!" I screamed, stooping to pick up a broken piece of concrete from the sidewalk. "I'm gonna kick your penis!"Young Sik and Chung Woo swiveled their hips and "oooh-ooohed" us. Lobetto yelled back, "I doubt you'd even know where to find it, you pile-of-shit-face! What did your mama do to make you born so ugly? Eh. Hyung Jin?" He pronounced the first part of my name with a hard "g" at the end, changing its meaning from wise truth to scarred truth."At least we're pure Korean, not like you, half-half." I jutted out my hip and shook the chunk of concrete at him. Back then, I was the bolder one, secure in my family's station, our relative wealth. I thought we were rich because we never had to worry about rice and once a week we ate meat. Chicken, pork, even beef sometimes.My mother's family, who had lived in Chollak generations before the start of World War II, owned the sweet shop we worked and lived in. We had an actual house-two rooms with an inside kitchen-not like the piramin shacks that the northerners or the GI girls from America Town lived in. Not like the dump Sookie and her mother had lived in before they found an "uncle" from the base."You are pure Korean, hah, Sookie?" I asked under my breath, testing the heft of stone in my palm. I was pretty sure if she wasn't, I would have been forbidden to play with her, just as I had been forbidden to play with Lobetto and Chosopine, before her father had taken her but not her mother to America."Ka na da ra!" Sookie continued to sing the alphabet, still holding her hands over her ears. I could see the muscles in her thin arms quivering."Hana, dul, set," I growled, and on "three" I whirled and let the concrete fly. Since I never bothered to aim, but threw blindly at the group of boys, I didn't think I'd hit anyone. That day, though, I hit Lobetto in the face, opening a gash across his forehead. "Aaah, good luck!" I cried as I grabbed Sookie's arm to run."No, bad luck!" Sookie gasped as the boys, leaving a dazed Lobetto sitting in the middle of the street, swarmed after us. "If Lobetto tells his daddy, my mother will have a hard time getting on the base. Then I might have to be hungry again!"We cut through the narrow winding alleys toward America Town, jumping over piles of chili peppers laid out on mats to dry, dodging an old halmoni who carried her colicky grandson on her bent back. "Excuse me, Tong Su's Grandma," I called over my shoulder before she began yelling about ill-mannered children racing through the streets like criminals. With luck, the boys would crash into the grandmother and be taken inside to be punished with a lecture and some ear pulling. We bolted into my father's store before Lobetto and his gang turned the corner.Since our store sat just outside the entrance to America Town, near the point where the GIs divided the streets into white section and black section, we had both pale miguks and dark gomshis stop in to check our merchandise. But our best customers were the kids who liked to come by after school to look at the Juicy Fruit or Coca-Cola, then buy yot or wax lips for something sweet. Only the Americans and their whores could afford the miguk gum and soda.My father had a big red and white refrigerator especially for the Coca-Cola. When the miguk gave it to us, we tried to put it inside the store, but once it was in, we couldn't open the door and there was no place to put the table of candy. Now the refrigerator sits in front and people call our store Coka, even when all we have in the cooler is kimchee.The one time the American who installed the cooler came for a maintenance check, he asked my father, "Where Coca-Cola? This only Coca-Cola." He held his fist to his mouth and glug-glugged smacking his lips.My father pretended not to understand his Korean, pointed to two dusty bottles of Coke we kept on the counter for display, and said, "Three thousand won."Years later, I understood that the Coca-Cola refrigerator came through Sookie's mother, a gift because of my friendship with Sookie, and because of the promises her mother and my father had made to one another before we were born."Appah!" I called out when Sookie and I burst through the door and scuttled under the candy table. I tugged the tablecloth down a few inches, trying to create a shield without tumbling the trays of sweets off the counter. Pulled as far as I dared, the cloth barely covered my face. I scooted toward the shadows against the wall. Sookie squeezed her shoulders between the legs of the stool; with her arms splayed out in front of her and her dark hair hanging in front of her panting face, I thought Lobetto was right: she did look like a black dog.My father came through the beaded curtain which separated the store from our living space. "What, did I hear my daughter's voice?" he teased, talking to the air above us, pretending not to see us. "Or was that a ghost? A faceless fox spirit that will steal my heart when I sleep?""Shh, Daddy," I scolded. "We are hiding from the boys."Appah laughed. "That is no way to catch a husband, girls. At least let me see what they want." My father strode to the door. When he flung it open, he caught the boys huddled in front, debating whether or not to hunt us in our own territory. "Sirs, come in. Come in."The boys shuffled in, bare feet tracking in the dust from the streets."Would you gentlemen like a piece of yot? Some juice? Mother of Hyun Jin made some fresh plum juice this morning." My father talked to them formally, as if they were paying customers.Sookie pinched me. "Tell your daddy to throw them out. Tell your daddy to scold them for teasing us. Tell your daddy they called us the Butt Twins," she hissed.I bit my lip, hating that my father acted so kind to them, yet reluctant to remind him of my ugliness. Wavering, I did nothing.The boys circled the candy table, kicking under the hem of the tablecloth with probing toes. I scratched at the blackest ones and heard a yelp. Ducking my head to peek out, I saw Young Sik hopping on one foot. I stuck out my tongue at him."You decide what you want?" my father asked, stepping in front of the table. I scrambled back, shuffling around his legs for another viewpoint. Pressing my face against the floor, I could crane my head enough to see up the nose of the closest boy."Three wax lips," Lobetto grumbled and swatted at a fly circling lazily around the cut above his eye; the blood had gelled so that it was almost the same color and consistency as the cherry-flavored wax lips. Lobetto was the only one with money and had to buy something with my father waiting on him. Swaggering past my father, he thunked his won onto the counter.Startled, I flinched and pressed closer to Sookie. Above Sookie's breath in my ear, I could hear the boys slurping the juice inside the wax. Imagining them grinning at one another with the fat red wax wedged over their teeth, I rolled my eyes at Sookie. She giggled."So, boys." My father clapped his hands over her laughter. "Which one of you has come to propose a match with my daughter?"One of them choked, spitting his lips onto the floor. The boys stammered, stepping on each other's feet, their bodies bumping together. Lobetto kicked at Young Sik who kicked Chung Woo. Chung Woo bent down to pick up his candy, shooting a look under the table where we crouched. He lifted his real lips toward his nose, like a snarling dog, and narrowed his eyes. Then, slipping the wax lips into his mouth, he flashed us a candied grin before standing.After the boys left, Appah pulled us out from under the table. "My girl is so popular, the boys follow her home from school." He was joking, but still I preened, thrusting my bony chest out and holding my head high, knowing that he loved me, that he, at least, did not consider me deformed.While my mother often poked at me to straighten my spine, to braid my hair, to stop looking so cross-eyed-which was difficult since I was also told to cock my head to hide the birthmark-my father pampered me with treats and stories. He told me tales of bears turning into women fit to marry the king of heaven, of beautiful princesses trapped for three hundred years in the form of centipedes, of girls haunting the earth as nine-tailed foxes. Always, they were stories of transformation, of ugliness turning into beauty. Sometimes as he talked, I thought he looked at my birthmark with remorse, but when I would turn sharply to confront him, his eyes were filled not with guilt or shame but with bright laughter. Despite what I looked like, I was still his only child; I worked hard to be perfect in other ways."I am still Class Leader," I said, lifting my head. "I'm number one, Sookie's number two." I side-eyed Sookie to see if she minded my boasting, but she smiled big enough to show her teeth.I always tried to be number one in school, the leader of the class-the one who led the line to the yard, the one who could call on rivals when I knew they would give a wrong answer. When Esteemed Teacher called on the rows to recite the countries and capitals of the world, I made sure my voice was loudest, unfaltering.During tests when the teacher knew I knew all the answers, I was chosen to patrol the rest of the children. If they looked numb with chanting, I'd slap them on the head to wake them up. If they mumbled wrong answers, I'd mark down their names. I stood with my ear against their faces to make sure they were not just mouthing the words. I'd point at the map of the world taped on the front wall and, cunning as a fox, cull out by instinct the most vulnerable: "Lobetto, what is the capital of Germany?" "Kyung Hu, who is the prime minister of Canada? Speak up!" "Young Sik, who are the Republic of Korea's giant allies? If you do not answer by the count of three, I will make you stand in the corner to answer harder and harder questions!" By the time we graduated from primary school, Sookie was my only friend.I grabbed a handful of yot from the table and when my father tapped my hand, I raised my eyebrows. "We need energy for homework," I said."Is that so?" My father laughed and picked up more of the sticky candy. He gestured to Sookie and laid three more pieces in her palm. "Then I expect you both to do extra well today." We went into the back room, rolled up our shirts and lay bare-belly on the cool stone floor to do homework.I pushed my tablet to Sookie. "Ho Sook," I wheedled, using her formal name to show respect, "same deal?"Sookie pinched her lips together, but nodded. She was better at art than I was, so I had convinced her to draw my homework as well as hers. I couldn't stand it when her pictures-dogs that looked like dogs, people that looked like people-received praise over my smudged circles and stick figures. In return, I would correct her English assignment. Of course, I left a few mistakes, so she would receive only an 80 or 85 percent. Only one of us should have a 100 percent. Only one of us could be class leader.That day, we were to draw self-portraits. As I skimmed over Sookie's English paper, she stared intently at me. I tried to turn away, but she cupped my chin in her hand. The pads of her fingers flickered along the line of my jaw, my cheek, my nose, across my eyes. Then, gently-so softly I barely felt her touch-she outlined with her caresses the continent of blue-black skin that stretched from my temple to my chin. And as she touched me, she drew, as if to memorize me with each stroke of her pen.When Sookie handed the paper back to me, I saw that she had drawn a perfect me, a me without the birthmark. Through her eyes, with her touch, I was transformed; I saw that, with the darkness erased, I had what the old ladies would call bok-saram, a face as lucky as the full moon.After we finished our homework, I walked Sookie home. I liked to visit her apartment, especially when her mother was on base or at the club. Then we had the afternoon and the apartment to ourselves. I liked to wander through the rooms, discovering the new American knickknacks that her mother smuggled home. Once we found a small, big-eyed doll with a curled helmet of yellow hair. Another time we found a slim, green bottle called "Youth Dew"; when we pressed the button, a mist that smelled like bug spray wafted over our faces. Sometimes we'd open up a drawer and find strange things to eat, like Ho Hos. The first time I tried that chocolate roll, I spit out the cake with its too-sweet lining of sugar cream. I couldn't believe that Americans, who could have anything in the world, would eat that. I thought Sookie had played a joke on me, handing me that shiny wrapped present and telling me it was U.S.A. so I would expect something delicious."You're mean!" I cried, scraping my tongue with my fingernails. "That tastes like dirt!""No, no," Sookie laughed, tearing open another silver pouch. "It's a delicacy; you have to learn to like it. Really, really, it's American so you know it's good." She and I ate our way through the box before I decided I liked it. I saved the wrappers from those Ho Hos for a long while after that day, pasting them on my bedroom wall with chewed-up bits of rice. I liked the way the shiny paper caught and flung the afternoon light around the room. My mother, who called anything from America "whore's rubbish," threw them out while I was at school.Sometimes Sookie and I would hit the jackpot and find not just snacks, but makeup: Touch and Glow base foundation, Beach Peach and Swinging Pink lipsticks, Coty puff powder."Your mother gets a lot of presents from the GIs," I said."I guess," she said. "You know how the Joe-sans are." I nodded, though I really didn't.Once we walked into the apartment when her mother was at the PX and found a darkie GI sleeping in the bed. Sidling up to the bed, we bent over to study him. Sookie poked at him with the corner of her writing tablet."Is he dead?" I asked. I didn't bother to whisper, thinking that even if he wasn't dead, he was American and couldn't hear Korean anyway. Up close he smelled like tobacco, stale and smoky. His chest, covered with coarse kinky hair, looked dark-like the underbelly of the black pig our family once raised. I watched his belly for movement so didn't notice when he opened his eyes. Sookie screamed and when I jerked my head up, I saw his white-white eyes blinking open then shut then open. And I saw his white-white teeth mouthing "Anyang haseyo, baby-sans" like a trained monkey saying a very polite "How do you do?" before it bites. I screamed, too, I think, and pushed past Sookie to run away. Even from outside the door, we could hear him laughing.This time I made Sookie check the apartment before I entered. "Okay, come in," she whispered. "Darkie's not here today.""How come your mother goes with the ugly, black dogs?" I grumbled.Sookie shrugged and turned to the desk decorated with makeup containers and beer bottles. I reached over her to touch the most elegant bottle I had ever seen: pasted over the dark brown glass was a picture of a smiling yellow-haired woman holding up a bouquet of foaming mugs."Try some candy," Sookie said, unwrapping a bar. "It's called Hersheys." She broke off a piece and popped it into my mouth. Sweet explosion, dark and bitter as blood, erupted in my mouth. Delicious. American. "My mother said darkies are the kindest," said Sookie, her teeth glistening with strings of chocolate. "The most grateful. They go with anybody who is lighter than them. Even the ugly ones." She gulped the last of the Hersheys. "I could get a darkie," she said, licking her teeth. "Even you could, maybe."We looked at our faces in the mirror, cataloging our ugliness. My birthmark gleamed, an ebony light, black as Africa. Sookie held up a white jar. "Pond-su cream," she said to my face in the mirror. "Made in the U.S.A.""Pansu?" I repeated. "Reflection cream?""Uh-huh." Sookie twisted open the jar and scooped the cream onto her fingers. She sniffed at it. "First time I found this, I thought it smelled so good, I ate it." She giggled, then poked the tip of her tongue into the mass. "Even knowing how horrible it tastes, I still can't resist."Sookie rubbed the Pond-su over my birthmark. "To lighten and soften your skin."I held my breath and as she rubbed, I thought I could see my stained skin dissolving under the layer of white cream."Look," Sookie breathed. "You are almost beautiful."Our eyes met in the glass. We looked from my face to Sookie's. Sookie lifted her arms. "I don't think there is enough Pond-su cream in this jar to cover my whole body," she said, trying to joke away her ugliness."Mmmm," I said, "then you just have to go to America where you can buy all you want."Sookie's reflection lowered its arms, stopped smiling. "Yes," the mouth said. "That's what I am going to do."It turned out that Sookie did not need Pond's Cold Cream to cover up her ugliness. Her ugliness turned into beauty without her having to do a thing. She didn't grow into beauty with womanhood-her boyishness developing into lush curves. Her body stayed long and thin, what the old grandmothers still call unlucky. Her skin didn't lighten with age; her face did not grow into her overly large eyes. In fact, she looked much the same as an adult as she had in childhood. There were times when we were grown that I saw her as I did when I was younger, and was shocked into remembering that she was as ugly as she always was. And I would be reminded that what had changed was not so much how we looked, but how we looked out of our own eyes, our perceptions of beauty and of ourselves.When the Americans first ventured off the base and into our neighborhoods, we though that they-with their high noses, round eyes, and skin either too white or too dark-were ugly. "Kojingi," we would squeal, shielding our faces from the Big Noses. Or, holding our own noses as we ran away from soldiers who smelled like decaying boots, we sang out, "Shi-che nemsei!"Slowly, though, we began to view their features as desirable, developing a taste for large noses, double lids, and cow eyes just as we had learned to crave the chocolate candy and cakes we had once thought sweet as dirt.

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTIONNora Okja Keller isn't one to shy away from difficult subjects. Her first novel, Comfort Woman, dealt with the experiences of women forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II. Keller's latest novel, the second installment of a planned trilogy, takes a hard look at the complex history between Korea and the United States.Set in a military camp town in 1960s Korea, Fox Girl is about the lives of mixed-race teenagers—literally products of the Korean War—coming of age in a seemingly dead-end world of poverty, vice, and despair. Known as "throwaway children," they're alienated from a Korean society that values purity above all, and abandoned by the American soldiers that fathered them.In America Town, cultures converge and clash. Coca-Cola sits on store shelves next to kimchee. In the school run by missionaries, young "half-halfs" are taught that America is better than their homeland. Meanwhile, even as the civil rights movement gains momentum in the U.S., in America Town white and black GIs are segregated. The Korean prostitutes and bar girls pander to all of them, naively believing that if they play their cards right, one will propose marriage someday. Kids hustle black-market goods and pimp their own mothers, hoping to make enough money for a ticket to America. In all these schemes, the goal is the same: escape.Hyun Jin, one of the three main characters in the novel, is determined to get out of America Town and break free from the brutality of her own existence. After being disowned by the parents who raised her, she descends into an abyss of self-loathing, prompting her to follow her best friend Sookie down the path of prostitution. When Hyun Jin sells her virginity in a transaction that essentially amounts to gang rape, she finally understands what Sookie meant when she instructed her to "[let] the real self fly away." Becoming numb to what she sees as her destiny allows Hyun Jin to endure it.As she slowly learns the details of her history, Hyun Jin begins to recognize the precariousness of all relationships and forms a sort of family with Sookie and their teenage pimp, Lobetto. Devastated when she miscarries her own baby, Hyun Jin clings fiercely to Sookie's unwanted child, promising to raise it as her own, determined to break the cycle of abuse and abandonment.Fox Girl is a dark, often relentlessly graphic story that challenges the reader to extract its ultimately redeeming message of survival and transformation. Betrayed by her family, her society, and sometimes her friends, Hyun Jin must do whatever she can in order to survive, and in the process she finds that her strength of will transcends what she felt was her fate, what she thought was in her blood. Like the mythical fox that turns itself into a girl, Hyun Jin is determined to transform the ugliness of her life into beauty.ABOUT NORA OKJA KELLERNora Okja Keller was born in Seoul, Korea, and now lives in Hawaii with her husband and two daughters. She received the Pushcart Prize in 1995 for "Mother Tongue," a piece from her first novel, Comfort Woman, winner of a 1998 American Book Award.A CONVERSATION WITH NORA OKJA KELLERHow have the different audiences in Korea and in the States responded to Fox Girl?Since I write about a time and place that I am not personally familiar with, I sometimes worry about authenticity; there is only so much research you can do. So when Fox Girl first came out and I started to meet the first readers of the book, I half expected to be denounced. Actually, I think that's the fear of most writers, no matter how established.At the start of the book tour, I was scheduled to do a radio interview with an African-American man who had been stationed in Korea at the time Fox Girl was written, and I thought "uh-oh," here it comes: he's going to tell me I got it all wrong. But when I walked into the studio, the first thing he said was, "I've been waiting thirty years for someone to tell this story. I feel like it's a part of my history." And he shared with me two photo albums full of his time in Korea, full of America Town. He even pointed to one picture of a group of biracial children and said, "Look, there's Lobetto! Any one of those kids could be him!"That experience touched me deeply, and reminded me to trust that if I do the research and write from the heart, the writing will lead me true.As the daughter of a Korean mother and German-American father, did personal experiences of your own help you develop your characters? Which character do you identify with most, and why?Every character is born inside the writer, from personal experiences, from different aspects of the personality. And I do start by trying to imagine how I would react if I were in the same situations that I place my characters. But as each character develops, they take on a life of their own, one that is very different from mine. So, while some of the characters in my novels are hapa, or mixed-race, as I am, they don't necessarily represent "me"—my history or my feelings—in any way.How did you come to focus on the relationship between Koreans and black GIs as opposed to GIs of any other race?In the late sixties and early seventies, racial tensions—between black U.S. servicemen and white U.S. servicemen, and also between black servicemen and the local Korean residents—were at their height in the segregated America Towns. The racial lines were so sharply drawn that the black soldiers and the women who worked in the all-black bars risked being beaten if they tried to "cross over."The Korean prostitutes were highly sensitive to the racial divisions among the soldiers, just as they had to be sensitive to all things American. And because white servicemen outnumbered black servicemen, most bars and most prostitutes were "white only," which perpetuated the discrimination. The Koreans living in the camptowns were mimicking and then assimilating the racist language and attitude of white soldiers towards blacks.The people existing at the lowest rung of America Town's social hierarchy were the "GI girls" who serviced black soldiers. The children from these unions weren't even on that ladder; they were invisible, considered neither Korean nor American. I wanted to acknowledge their existence, to give them a voice in Fox Girl.Will your next book focus on Myu Myu, or will we see any of the same characters from Fox Girl?The next book will be a sequel focusing on Myu Myu—and yes: some of the characters from Fox Girl will reappear, though perhaps not in the same form; we see people from new perspectives.Was it difficult to write from the perspective of a very young girl? Are there specific processes you employ to reach that point of view in your writing?No, since I was a young girl once—long, long ago—and I keep that girl within me still. Also, I have two daughters who keep that perspective fresh.How has living in Hawaii (as opposed to the mainland) affected your writing?Hawaii has a strong tradition of "local" literature, where writers explore what it means to belong to this place, and how you can retain your ethnicity and culture and still be "local." Also, an island is small; pretty much everyone in Hawaii's writing community knows or knows of everyone else. We know where we all live, and it's all close by.Which makes it easy for beginning writers to find the support to keep writing. A dozen years or so ago, I was lucky enough to hook up with a great writing group called the Bamboo Ridge study group. One night a month, we try to get together to talk about the work we are doing (or not doing), about Asian-American writing, about local literature—and to drink wine.What are your thoughts on the state of Asian-American literature?I went through high school and most of college without reading a single book written by an Asian American. I wasn't even familiar with that term; in the seventies and eighties, we were called "Oriental." Then in 1986, I read Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston and went: "Whoa!" Here was a person writing close to home—my home. That book opened up a hunger in me for other books written by Asian Americans, and what I found was a hundred year history of Asian-American literature that was going unacknowledged.Now, twenty years later, Asian-American literature is being offered at some high schools and most colleges across the nation. And Maxine Hong Kingston is a staple in American Literature courses.After Kingston, who was the "It" Asian in the seventies and Amy Tan in the eighties, there has been a proliferation of Asian American authors from all ethnicities—Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, as well as Chinese and Japanese—so that our national understanding of what is "Asian American," and by extension "American," has had to expand. And that's always a good thing.Who do you see as your intended audience?I don't think about audience when I write. If I imagined thousands of eyes reading each word as I wrote it, I think I would put the pen down right then and there.What writers do you most admire? Are there any specific books over the years that have been especially formative in terms of your development as a writer?I had a solid education in the American classics, which when I was growing up meant: Steinbeck, Faulkner, Whitman, Hemingway. Each one of those writers influenced me in some way, but I couldn't visualize becoming a writer myself until I read people who were more like me: female, non-white, and alive. So, as I mentioned earlier, Kingston opened up this awareness of possibilities for me. Then there was Cathy Song—a Korean-Chinese poet from Hawaii!—who has since become a close friend. And, of course, there are those writers who just seem to exist on a higher plane: Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez.DISCUSSION QUESTIONSThere are a number of versions of the Fox Girl myth described in the book. In what ways do Hyun Jin and/or Sookie embody these various interpretations? Hyun Jin's mother says that "blood will always tell." What does she mean by this? How does it apply to the main characters? Duk Hee, though she gave birth to Hyun Jin, insists she is not her mother. Hyun Jin's emotional ties to Myu Myu are much stronger than Sookie's. How do each of the characters' experiences inform their attitudes toward motherhood? Early in the book, Hyun Jin's relationship with her father is loving and supportive. Why does he later turn her away, and how does this affect her? Duk Hee says that cosmetics make Korean faces invisible to the "American Joes." What are the various kinds of invisibility touched on in the novel? What is the symbolic significance of Hyun Jin's birthmark? Hyun Jin's relationship with Lobetto at times seems tender and at other times seems hostile. Is Lobetto a sympathetic character? Why or why not? In some ways, Sookie is a victim of exploitation. Does she show independence or power in other ways? In your opinion, is the Fox Girl a villain or a heroine?

Editorial Reviews

"In words that pulse with life, Keller illuminates the lives of children caught between two worlds with a vividness that lightens their dark circumstances." —The Miami Herald

"[Keller's] lyricism makes even the most disturbing scenes eerily beautiful, and gives women who continue to suffer the cruelest fates a much-needed voice." —San Francisco Chronicle