My Good Son: A Selected Bibliography

May 27th, 2021

From award-winning author Yang Huang comes My Good Son. A tailor in post-Tiananmen China, Mr. Cai has one ambition: for his son, Feng, to make something of himself. With harsh discipline and relentless pressure, Mr. Cai succeeds in getting Feng ready to attend a U.S. college, but Feng needs a sponsor. When Mr. Cai meets a closeted American art student named Jude, they hatch a plan to benefit them both: get Feng to the US and help Jude come out to his conservative father. Their scheme will expose the fault lines in both Chinese and American cultures-father-son relationships, familial expectations, gender and sexuality, social status and mobility. Huang's writing abounds with sharp insights and a quiet humor, revealing the complexity of family relationships amidst two rapidly changing cultures.

In this Selected Bibliography, Huang shares and comments on the books that inspired her thinking as she explored the power and cost of parental love.

The Asian Mind Game by Chin-ning Chu examines the philosophical, sociological, and historical influences on the shaping of the modern Asian mind. It is concise, insightful, unsentimental, and engaging because the stereotypes are true to some degree. The book’s lack of political correctness and its hype about military strategy are kind of virtues, as they helped me imagine the tailor in my novel, a modest man, with audacity and substance.

A Free Life by Ha Jin is a candid portrayal about a Chinese immigrant family in the United States. The story, unadorned and brutally honest, shows the frustrations and fears in their mundane life. The generational gap between father and son is drawn with great precision and empathy. The central strugglesacrificing for art versus living a practical lifeinspired me to explore a similar question of my tailor and his artistic son.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is a perfectly executed paradox about how one sells one's soul for beauty, a choice that most mortals are liable to make. I was obsessed with the painting, a representation of physical beauty, and stared at it in my mind’s eye, trying in vain to get to the bottom of this mythical tale. A painting appears in My Good Son and creates an intense and puzzling crisis that the characters have to reckon with but don’t fully comprehend.

Middlemarch by George Eliot, a sprawling novel about provincial life in 19th century England, is a perennial inspiration about what is possible in a novel, not only in the scope of the narrative but also in the depth of it. Middlemarch showed me how to look into people, to think and feel with them. I realized the rebellious son, Feng, in my novel is in some way like Fred Vincy. I could not imitate Eliot; Feng came from my life experience and imagination. It is a testament to Middlemarch’s universal appeal and contemporary relevance.

Maurice by E.M. Forster is a novel before its time. Living in a society that criminalizes gays, self-loathing and suicidal thoughts plague Maurice. I admired the way Forster uses suffering to wake up his character from a torpor. Maurice, who is average and rather a snob at the beginning, comes to realize that “You can do anything once you know what it is.” He takes a great risk to relinquish a life of pretense and embrace his sexuality. Through Maurice, I was able to imagine Jude, a gay man in my book struggling to ask his father for acceptance.

Color Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson says, “You can wear every color of the rainbow. Shade makes the difference.” It is a style guide for dummies, someone who is uninitiated or careless. It helped me visualize the color palette on people with a variety of skin tones and different personalities. More than a research book, Color Me Beautiful taught me how to dress and look put-together with minimum effort.

About Yang Huang: Yang Huang grew up in Yangzhou, China and has lived in the United States since 1990. Her linked story collection, My Old Faithful, won the Juniper Prize for fiction. Her debut novel, Living Treasures, won the Nautilus Book Award silver medal in fiction. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband and two teenage sons and works for the University of California, Berkeley.

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