Get ‘Em While They’re Fresh: New Books for May 2016

cover_topologiesIn 1981, a national design competition was held  to create a memorial for  veterans of the Vietnam War. The winner of the competition was a 21 year-old Yale undergraduate named Maya Lin.  Lin’s design, a sunken V-shaped wall cloaked in black granite and inscribed with the names of the fallen, had been inspired by WWI memorials she had seen in France. “I was struck by how emotionally powerful they were and I knew that I wanted to create a work that would focus as well on the individuals.” (Topologies p. 14)

The choice of Lin’s entry proved to be controversial. Some critics felt that her design was intended to evoke shame–or more absurdly–a peace symbol.  Others hinted that Lin’s ethnicity itself was problematic, conflating her ethnic background (her parents are Chinese immigrants) with the country of Vietnam.  At times, it seemed like Lin’s “Americanness” itself was being called in to question.

Maya Lin’s 50 most important works, including the Vietnam Memorial, are documented in the lushly illustrated monograph Maya Lin: TopologiesAcutely aware that her early success might typecast her as a monument designer, Lin has continued to pursue different outlets for her vision, designing buildings and massive earthworks.  In the subsequent 35 years, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has proven to be one of the most popular commemorative monuments in the world, drawing over 4 million visitors a year.  The American Institute of Architects honored the memorial with the Twenty-five Year Award, recognizing structures of enduring significance completed 25 to 35 years ago. Available at the John T. Richardson Library, call number 709.2 L7351M2015


In 1915, Riverside, California’s Washington Restaurant was the paragon of wholesome, cheap, American-style cuisine.  cover_lemonstreetDinner, which could be had for as little as 15 cents, included soup, dessert and a beverage of choice,  such as milk, coffee or “Orange Kola.” (p. 72) The menu was decorated with the Presidential namesake’s portrait, and pictures of other popular Chief Executives graced the walls of the restaurant.  This patriotically-named establishment was owned and operated by Japanese immigrants Jukichi and Ken Harada, serving mostly immigrant workers in the booming California citrus industry.  Seeking a clean and safe home after the illness and death of his five year-old son Tadao,  Jukichi sought to purchase a six-room house at 356 Lemon Street in a predominantly white neighborhood.    In order to circumvent California’s Alien Land Law of 1913, which prevented foreign-born individuals from owning real estate, he purchased the property in the names of his three youngest children, all of whom were born in the U.S.   Neighbors objected, and then sued. The subsequent court case, The People of the State of California v. Jukichi Harada, permitted the Haradas to maintain ownership of the house on Lemon Street, and led to a weakening if not elimination of the Alien Land Law.  The House on Lemon Street is more than just a case study; through family interviews and photos, it is a moving tribute to Jukichi Harada, a man of uncommon grit.  The Haradas’ triumph has a sad epilogue. During the WWII internment of Japanese Americans, elderly Ken and Jukichi were deported to the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah, where they both died.  The Harada House is now a National Historic Landmark.  Available at the John T. Richardson Library, call number 973.04956 H254h

cover_inthecountry“Kontrabida,” in Tagalog, is a stereotyped villain.  Mia Alvar’s In the Country: Stories opens with a short story of the same name.  The narrator is a pharmacist based in the U.S., returning to his parents’ home in the Philippines with smuggled pain-killers.  In Filipino romances, the kontrabida moves the narrative forward, providing a frisson not supplied by the blander hero.  The story reveals that the hero is not always so selfless, and that the damsel in distress has hidden strengths.

The eight other stories in the collection follow the Filipino diaspora, across the world and through political strife in “The Country,” as the Philippines is called here. The title novella-length story follows the life of Milagros, and idealistic young nurse who organizes a strike after discovering that American nurses at he hospital are paid more.  The year is 1971, just before President Ferdinand Marcos declares martial law.  It is a history that few Americans know, and reveals why so many have left for opportunities elsewhere. Available at the John T. Richardson Library, Haber Lounge, call number 813.6 A472I2015

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