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Review Han, Stephanie. Swimming in Hong Kong. Spokane, WA: Willow Springs Books, 2016. 134 pp. $19.95 paper. Reading Swimming in Hong Kong brings one into company with individuals awash in the idea that across geographies, the challenges of being somehow outside, alone, or different are never far. The characters in this short story collection, all women of varying ethnicities and homelands around the Pacific, speak to the reader from multiple locales—from Hong Kong to Waterton, from Nantucket to Seoul. Yet common among them are feelings of being out of place somehow, in their environments, in their social circles, and even in the direction of their life paths. Inhabiting a world where movement between Korea, Hong Kong, and the United States is commonplace and done for pleasure as much as for survival, these characters grapple with forms of displacement that are intensified by regional cultural biases. Whether the career woman, the homeless city dweller, or the student; whether one who has left home, or one who has been left at home: each individual’s experience of exile prompt her to question where she is going. How do her appearance, ethnicity, and class shape her aspirations in a world that is so particularly routed? The stories, set mostly in Korea, China, and the United States in the 1980s, explore how regional attitudes regarding racial difference, female independence, and homeland, structure these characters’ lives. The speaker in “Invisible,” for instance, has expert knowledge of how non-local Asian women in Hong Kong are inspected: Together with your husband in the U.S. you were thought of as too yellow, too white, too privileged, too educated, too foreign, too poor, too rich, too loud, too quiet, too American, too Asian, too European. You and your husband occupy that space in between. You have what the far left and the far right seem to uncannily agree is undesirable and problematic: a mixed marriage.” (12) The women throughout the collection are similarly conscious of how their bodies and life choices are judged. So sensitive are they to the perceived strangeness of their own situations—as expatriates, as single women, as racial minorities in cultures that worship whiteness—that they lose track of their own aspirations and survival needs. While loneliness reverberates across the collection, Han brings more than a set of intriguing dramas. The book’s greater concern is that this displacement is in fact systemically and environmentally produced. Regional attitudes and these patterns of loneliness, Han suggests, are consistent with cultural shifts stirred by transpacific movement. Hana in “Canyon” wrestles with the implications of leaving her family and a troubled relationship in Kwangju, to “start over” in California; in “Hong Kong Rebound” a local girl describes her working father’s ritual of watching soccer games through a fancy restaurant window, as expatriates and other elites dine inside. These experiences, while shaped by characters’ actions, are also produced by transpacific



Document Type

Book Review


A review of Swimming in Hong Kong (2016), a short story collection by Stephanie Han.



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