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Grace Li

Deconstructing the American Dream: Identity and Illusions in Nghi Vo’s The Chosen and the Beautiful

The first time I read The Great Gatsby, I was in high school. I grew up in suburban Texas, where it was entirely normal for strangers to open conversations by asking what I was or where I was from, and the glittering world of Jay Gatsby was lovely, dreamlike, and entirely unrelatable. I loved it anyway. It was the same for many of the classics of my childhood and teenage years, which I remember with a hazy, uncritical fondness—Homer, Shakespeare, and more.

I loved these stories because they were the ones I grew up with, the ones that were formative to my growth as a reader and a someday writer. Many of my friends in the Chinese diaspora can cite other stories—the stories of the moon goddess Chang’e, Sun Wukong and the cast of characters in Journey to the West—but my recollections of these are murkier. My parents grew up in the countryside during China’s Cultural Revolution, a period of political and social upheaval, and many of the traditional Chinese legends and stories they either weren’t allowed to learn or didn’t pass down to me. Everything I read—everything I knew—involved Western narratives, white characters inhabiting worlds that I had never imagined or expected to make space for me.

And then I read The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo.

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Series: R.F. Kuang Guest Editor for

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