Reading List: The Works of Alexander Chee

Korean American Alexander Chee is an out writer whose works have appeared in gay publications  such as Out Magazine and the Advocate. He has written essays, novels, poetry, and a novel and his newest novel The Queen of the Night is currently being edited.

Although he was born in Rhode Island, he spent his childhood in South Korea, Hawaii, Truk, and Maine. I first stumbled upon this writer on Korean American Story. His article, Korean Enough, describes his experience as a Korean in America and dealing with others questioning his authenticity as a Korean.

To learn more about the writer, check out his blog. This is the excerpt he provides on his blog from his novel Edinburgh:

The Lady Tammamo was a fox who fell in love with a man and took the shape of a woman in order to marry him. Her hair remained red and so she was feared, for at that time in Korea the only people with red hair were said to be demons. She was very beautiful, in the way of fox demons, and her husband loved her. And she loved him.
She bore her husband children, all sons. After some trouble in their village, for which she was blamed, they left and moved to a tiny island between Korea and Japan where they settled and were accepted by the fishermen there, who had seen many things and were not afraid of her. I’ll be safe here, she told her husband. And she was. Rumored to be from Mongolia, she told people, when they asked her where her clan was from, that it was a place where the sky bent the earth.

When her husband died and his family came to burn the body, she stood by him and stoked the fire under him. Her husband’s family watched her, afraid. Would she turn back into a fox, now that her husband was dead, and kill them all? Make their skulls into helmets and hunt the fishermen? She smiled at them, pressed her hand to her husband’s cold face, and stepped up onto the fire, which then rose until the family could not see them. The fox can breathe a fireball, if she likes, and it burned husband and wife both to ashes.

Her children, now without their mother, never learned to be foxes and so her descendants have lived as ordinary men and women since. The village sometimes wondered why Lady Tammamo fled into the fire when fox-demons can live to be hundreds of years old. Some felt they’d been wrong, and that perhaps she hadn’t been a demon after all. The children, seen sometimes selling their fish in the markets, were so beautiful and kind to everyone. You couldn’t see the red in their hair unless the sun shone right on it, and then you’d see it, red threads among the black.

My father tells me the story of her when I find a red hair on his head, growing from his left temple. This is all that remains of her, my father tells me, when he tells me the story. And he pulls the red hair out of his head and hands it to me.

When I show the red hair to my blond mother, she laughs. He always pulls that hair out, she says. I had a red-haired great-grandfather, you know.

My hair is brown. But in my beard, the red threads grow. I shave them. My name is Aphias Zhe. Aphias was the name of a schoolteacher in Scotland five generations back on my mother’s side. Zhe is the name every man in my father’s family has been called by since that first day we fished the sea between Korea and Japan, five hundred years ago. Aphias became Fee in the mouth of my friend Peter, and Fee became Fiji in college. But Fee is the name that stuck, because Peter gave it to me.

This is a fox story, of how a fox can be a boy. And so it is also the story of a fire.

Has anyone read anything by Alexander Chee? I'll be picking up Edinburgh soon...