Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Chinese Prodigal

A Memoir in Eight Arguments

by David Shih

From an exciting and sharp-voiced new observer of American culture, a forthright and probing debut exploring Asian American identity in a racially codified country

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date August 13, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6343-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date August 15, 2023
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5899-4
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $28.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date August 15, 2023
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5900-7
  • US List Price $28.00

After his father’s passing in 2019, David Shih sought to unravel the underlying tensions that defined the complex relationship between him and his parents. Ultimately, this forced a reckoning with the expectations he encountered as the only son of Chinese immigrants, and with the realities of what it means to be Asian in a de facto segregated country. At a moment when anti-Asian racism is increasingly overt, Chinese Prodigal is a work of rare subtlety, offering a new vocabulary for understanding a racial hierarchy too often conceived as binary.

In public life and in Shih’s own, “Asian Americanness” has changed shape constantly, directed by the needs of the country’s racial imaginary. A sliding scale, visibility for Asians in America has always been relative to the meanings of white and Black. A memoir in essays, Chinese Prodigal examines the emergence of “Asian American” identity in a post–Civil Rights America in the wake of Vincent Chin’s death. Shih guides us through the roles offered to Asian Americans to play, whether a model minority, a collaborator in the carceral state, or a plaintiff in the right-wing effort to dismantle affirmative action, illuminating what these issues have to teach us about American values and about the vexed place Asians and Asian Americans inhabit today. And mining his own experiences—from his failures of filiality to his negotiations within an interracial marriage—Shih masterfully captures the intimate costs of becoming an American.

Chinese Prodigal knits together the personal, the historical, and the present, offering an incisive examination of a society and the people it has never made space for. It is a moving testimony of a son, father, and citizen stepping outside the identities imposed on him.

Praise for Chinese Prodigal:

Winner of the Bernard J. Brommel Award for Biography & Memoir from the Society of Midland Authors
Winner of the Blei/ Derleth Nonfiction Book Award from the Wisconsin Writers Awards
Publishers Weekly Writer to Watch of Fall 2023

“David Shih’s new memoir is a searing commentary on race in America, especially what it means to be Asian American in a country that is often seen as a neat division of black and white cultures . . . [Chinese Prodigal is] provocative and brave in asking tough questions of himself and his readers.”Volume One

“An insightful window into the complicated, difficult relationship between Asian Americans and the place they call home . . . a powerful and touching account of maintaining empathy and filiality in the face of political, cultural, and generational differences.”—Collin Chung, International Examiner

“A profoundly thoughtful, unflinchingly honest Asian American memoir . . . Throughout this memorable book, Shih is adept at seamlessly weaving historical events into his life story, forging thoughtful, creative connections between his evolution and that of the U.S. The result is an insightful, vulnerable, trenchant, and utterly readable story about belonging that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt that one or more of their identities sets them apart.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Chinese Prodigal carefully prizes apart the layers of the familiar narratives to find what lies beneath them. This wide-ranging memoir explores the shifting contours of Asian American identity over the centuries and in the author’s own life . . . An insightful, expansive American story, and it reminds readers that our lives are never far removed from the workings of history.”—Jenny Hamilton, Booklist

Chinese Prodigal is a text that challenges its own readers to critically engage with the arguments it puts forward, to reevaluate the preconceptions with which we approach the narratives we consume.”AsAmNews

“A raw, moving debut memoir . . . [Chinese Prodigal] amounts to a thoughtful meditation on the gap between the promise the American dream dangles in front of minorities and the realities of their discriminatory treatment.”—Publishers Weekly

“Shih’s prose, in its beauty, invited me to stay with it, to keep turning the pages . . . I’m not sure if I’ll ever truly be finished with this book. I hadn’t expected to see myself reflected in Chinese Prodigal, and now that I have, I feel electrified, wondering where I’m supposed to go from here, knowing that wherever that is, the path won’t be easy.”—Jasmine Gonzalez, Porchlight

“Enlivened by a fearless intellect, candid personal reckonings, and its moving song of a wounded citizen heart, Chinese Prodigal is as provocative and illuminating as any recent memoir on what it has meant—and means to be—an Asian in America. This is essential reading for anyone keen to understand the unique narratives—both public and private—of the Asian American experience.”—Chang-rae Lee, author of My Year Abroad

“In Chinese Prodigal, David Shih takes us into the intimate relationships within a Chinese American family and explodes out into the world of Asian Americans. This is a meticulous work of reflection, of research, of the intersections between the construction of race and racism in this country. It is an urgent warning that demands a slow reading, an honest quest to bring into light the many hands that hold us back as we grapple with ourselves and each other in a history that is fraught with our invisibility, our malleability, our complicated compliance. Chinese Prodigal is a defiant incantation for those who have brought us here and those we have brought.”—Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Song Poet

Chinese Prodigal is an intellectually heady exploration of race matters, a deep consideration of the cultural fluidities, mythologizing, and disruption attendant on Asian American identity. Shih recounts the fitful evolution of his own consciousness and an adult life spurred to probe into matters of descent, diaspora, and exilic identity in his own family—Chinese immigrants resettled in Texas, far-flung from ethnic and national roots. A moving autobiography embedded within a seven-story mountain of a journey; compelling, insightful, probing, and emotionally balanced.”—Garrett Hongo, author of The Perfect Sound