Reviews & Interviews
“Don Lee’s stories are expertly written and wonderfully readable, with a fascinating mixture of the comic and sorrowful. They are concerned with love, attachments, and separations within Asian-American families, and, as the book’s title suggests, they always touch on issues of racism and courage.”
“I loved this book. Don Lee has a way of convincing you that something momentous hovers over the most ordinary lives. His prose is sure, his eye keen, and his stories are involving, unexpected, and provocative.”
"Don Lee eschews the politically correct, not so much for the politically incorrect, as for a third ground of real human complexity. This work is a pleasure."
“Nothing short of wonderful, Don Lee’s stories are surprising and wild with life, while the prose is both beautiful and exact. This collection of stories has the drive of a novel.…It embodies the complexities of its characters’ lives thoroughly and with compassion and permits the political implications of their actions to resonate on the page without authorial intrusion or comment. This is a masterful book and deserves a wide readership. I was really knocked out by it.”
“A wonderful book, thoughtful and a page-turner both at once. Yellow operates on several levels, including a wise and unpredictable examination of race and ethnicity in America, and a meditation on the connection between art and passion in life. For all their compelling contemporaneity, at the deepest level these stories harken back to the timeless concerns of Chekhov: fate, chance, the mystery of the human heart.”
[Starred] Set mostly in Rosarita Bay, a fictional coastal town near San Francisco, this debut collection from the editor of the literary journal Ploughshares traces the lives (usually the romantic lives) of a motley assortment of male protagonists. Lee examines the circumstances of Asians living in white society, as well as the differences and occasional tensions, mostly unnoticed by Anglos between persons of various Asian descents. "The Price of Eggs in China" finds gifted furniture designer Dean Kaneshiro caught in the middle of a feud between his girlfriend, Caroline Yip, and Marcella Ahn (aka the Oriental Hair Poets). Caroline is convinced that the more successful Marcella exists only to torment her, and Dean hatches a dubious plan to end their years-old rivalry. In "Voir Dire," public defender Hank Low Kwon grapples with his representation of a cocaine addict accused of beating his girlfriend's infant son to death. Hank's anxiety over the case and his occupation in general is exacerbated by the pregnancy of his own girlfriend, Molly, a blonde diving coach. And Korean-American oncologist Eugene Kim contemplates the peculiarities of mixed-race romances in "Domo Arigato," recalling an ill-fated weekend spent in Japan 20 years ago with a white girlfriend and her parents. Eugene wonders if "you couldn't overcome the hatreds of countries or race, any more than you could forgive someone for breaking your heart." Hatred and heartbreak, though, are mitigated by Lee's cool yet sympathetic eye and frequently dark sense of humor, as when, in the title story, young Danny Kim watches in horror as a drunk kisses his father on the mouth and proclaims, "I forgive you for Pearl Harbor." Agent, Maria Massie. (Apr.) Forecast: This appealing collection shouldn't be relegated to Asian Studies shelves. The fact that Norton is the publisher, coupled with word-of-mouth interest among the literary set, may boost crossover appeal. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
[Starred] Just imagine Annie Yung. She's 38, with a good software job in Silicon Valley, but now she's listening to Patsy Cline, wearing tight jeans, cowboy boots, and a "bleached-blonde hairdo that looked for all the world like a plastic stalagmite." She's looking for love in a cowboy bar in Rosarita Bay (aka Half Moon Bay, California). It's no surprise that the guy she meets turns out to have as many complications as she does. And Annie is typical of the Asian American characters you'll meet in these lyrical and intriguing short stories. There's surfer Duncan Roh, whose search for a woman to marry is getting nowhere. One of his lovers is a reference librarian whom he met at a meditation class where she was seeking relief from the great stress in her life caused by people asking stupid questions. She dumps Duncan for his lack of self-awareness. Each of Lee's achingly vulnerable characters deals with totally believable fears, plus an added layer of racial awareness. The final story, "Yellow," sums it all up in the struggles of handsome Danny Kim, whose perspective is continually skewed by his fear of racism. The Rosarita Bay setting provides connection, but the characters also mingle, adding texture to a compelling, beautifully written collection. Peggy Barber. Copyright © American Library Association.
Debut collection of seven intelligent short stories and a novella about Asian-Americans, mostly centered in coastal California, by the editor of Ploughshares. Even at sea in a fishing boat, Lee anchors readers in the minds of his characters, who are deeply immersed in their occupations: piloting, engineering, golfing, making chairs, or even taking up amateur boxing. Yet work is always a vehicle through which the author defines characterizations and reveals emotion. In "The Price of Eggs in China," two poets-rich, swaddled Marcella Ahn and slobby, struggling Caroline Yip-publish at the same time, get reviewed in tandem, and then fade. Six years later, Caroline takes up with Dean Kaneshiro, an artist who hand-sculpts chairs (bought by the White House), but then finds her life again invaded by Marcella, who wants Dean for herself. "Widowers" limns two different responses to loss. Charter boat captain Alan Fujitani, whose wife died 20 years ago, takes a 22-year-old woman out to sea to dump her despised husband's ashes into the waves. They later strike up a wavering affair, though Alan is still heartbroken, haunted daily by memories of his dead spouse. Lee's most ambitious piece here is the novella, "Yellow," which gets under the skin of Korean Danny Kim. A dashingly athletic and handsome student who beds but fails to stick with several white girls, he finally marries a Korean chosen by his mother. His wife is the first Asian woman he 's ever slept with, and the marriage nearly dies under the pressure of his supremely disciplined climb toward a partnership in a Boston engineering firm. Danny's response to race prejudice is to attempt to rise above his skin. His story has an absolutely wonderful twist impossible to foresee, and it demonstrates Lee's strength in a longer form. Memorable. May the author now fearlessly face a novel.
- Identity Theory interview with Robert Birnbaum
- LA Weekly review
- New York Times Book Review review
- AsianWeek review
- Washington Post review
By far the best article about Yellow was by Tim Rutten of The Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2001: "Don Lee's Revealing Visit to Rosarita Bay" (article fee)