Coda: ‘‘What We Should Become,
What We Were’’
You were supposed to be a poet. You were supposed to tell us what we sho
come, what we were. I would have been a king, I would have been anythin
had shown me how. It is you who have betrayed us. You betrayed yourself
you became something else.—Vikram Chandra, Red Earth and Pouring Rai
Vikram Chandra’s novel is not obviously an Asian American bil
roman, but it traces the careers of three Anglo-Indian brothers wh
mately lose their way in life because, as men of mixed blood, th
claimed by neither the Indians nor the British during India’s strugg
nationhood. Like the authors and protagonists of Asian American
ture, they had thought their race would not matter, that as Anglo-I
they belonged in both worlds, only to find themselves claimed by
side. As the bard of his generation, Sanjay is charged by his brothe
failing to provide the necessary narratives that would have given the
their kind a history of their own, envisioning them as subjects in the
right.
In a far less grandiose way, the creators of Asian American literatu
up the call simply to say who they are, to make a place within the
can national literature where their stories belong. I’ve described how
American revisions of the bildungsroman have served in a general br
ing of the idea of America and some sites where that work is still
on. Many Asian American writers, however, are moving past the as
tion narratives I have described. The interracial couple who relish diff
without inequity in Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey, Cynthia Kadoha
writing of race as an unmentioned subtext rather than the primary c
of characters in The Floating World, and Shawn Wong’s casting of
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