In Jean Chen Ho’s intimate and irreverent collection of related stories, “Fiona and Jane,” a group of multiethnic Asian Americans take readers from the sordid Korean bars of the mall to lavish New York clubs to Bustling Shilin Night Market in Taipei for 20 years. year of friendship between its titular characters.
Ho’s first book follows childhood best friends Fiona Lin and Jane Shen as they come of age, experience romantic encounters gone awry, and explore their family histories. Told in alternate voices as the women grow up and then separate, Ho’s stories address themes of identity, shame, grief, sexuality, and the intensity and complexity of life. female friendship.
“In my life, my long-standing friendships are so important to me,” Ho told NBC Asian America. “I still have friends from high school who are my closest girlfriends. I still have friends in college journals, friends who are old colleagues, and lots of friends from the different writers community, so I’m interested in how all of these different iterations of friendship have made me feel. shaped as a person and a writer.
The collection’s first story, “The Night Market,” follows 18-year-old Jane’s visit to Taiwan to see her father, who ends up dating his daughter, causing her to reflect on her own romantic feelings for her. his piano teacher. . “Go Slow” highlights dangers Fiona and Jane face as they assert their independence, while “Doppelgangers” follows 29-year-old Fiona on her final weekend in New York, with micro-attacks , a bad connection and cocaine bumps in the bathroom.
“This book is not autobiographical, but it is based on observations of my world, of my friends, of the experiences that I have had or observed by my friends,” Ho said. “I wanted to write American characters d ‘Asian descent who did nothing but do dirty things and joke with their friends, and the fun and joy of being a dirty dirty, the joy and pleasure of being a great friend, or sometimes having to make choices where you betray your friend.
Like the characters in “Fiona and Jane”, Ho is the daughter of immigrants and grew up in various parts of Southern California. Born in Taiwan, Ho and her family first moved to a small town outside of Kansas City, Missouri, where her father was a computer teacher when she was 8 years old. When Ho started third grade, she did not speak English. At age 11, Ho lived in Cerritos, California, a suburb of Los Angeles with a majority of Asian residents.
“In that short period of time, I had two completely different types of American experiences,” Ho said. “I was one of two Asian American families in this small town. Then all of a sudden I became friends with kids from a Korean American family, Native American family, and different origins and immigration stories.
After high school, she studied English at the University of California at Berkeley. Ho said attending college was “a fortuitous moment” as it was one of the founding sites of ethnic studies in 1969 after a long and violent student strike and helped her teach him the background of American history of Asian origin, which informs its fiction.
In Berkeley, Ho joined an Asian-American political newspaper, Hardboiled; interned on public television KQED; and worked for a Hollywood producer, figuring she could work as a reporter or screenwriter, but neither career path was right for her. She then worked as a grant writer for nonprofit arts organizations and as an after school student tutor.
Describing herself as a “great book geek,” Ho said she wrote in a journal on and off since she was a child, but only started writing fiction when she was a child. late twenties. She took a fiction writing class for fun. Then, 10 years after graduating from college, she enrolled in the Maser of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she was the only Asian American student in her class. .
She then moved on to the University of Southern California to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature as a Dornsife Fellow. His thesis focuses on 19th-century Los Angeles Chinatown, how it was destroyed, and the racialized violence of the time.
As Ho’s longtime dream of writing a book has come true, its publication takes place amid a global pandemic and high rates of anti-Asian racism and violence.
“There has been a change in my perspective, after going through the pandemic and really seeing what is really important to me personally, politically and what I can do to help my community,” Ho said. “I was fighting a lot. not to be productive, but the pandemic has really changed that. I realized that sometimes your brain needs to rest – that also counts as writing. ”