Welcome to my second interview for my [belated] Taiwanese American Heritage Week series!
About the Book
- Title: In the Beautiful Country
- Author: Jane Kuo
- Cover Artist: Julia Kuo
- Publisher: Quill Tree Books (an Imprint of HarperCollins)
- Release Date: June 14th, 2022
- Genre/Format: Middle Grade Historical Fiction, Novel-in-Verse
For fans of Jasmine Warga and Thanhhà Lại, this is a stunning novel in verse about a young Taiwanese immigrant to America who is confronted by the stark difference between dreams and reality.
Anna can’t wait to move to the beautiful country—the Chinese name for America. Although she’s only ever known life in Taiwan, she can’t help but brag about the move to her family and friends.
But the beautiful country isn’t anything like Anna pictured. Her family can only afford a cramped apartment, she’s bullied at school, and she struggles to understand a new language. On top of that, the restaurant that her parents poured their savings into is barely staying afloat. The version of America that Anna is experiencing is nothing like her dreams. How will she be able to make the beautiful country her home?
This lyrical and heartfelt story, inspired by the author’s own experiences, is about resilience, courage, and the struggle to make a place for yourself in the world.
Interview with Jane Kuo
Q: What is your favorite Taiwanese food, and what foods feel like home (however you define home for yourself) to you?
A: I really love ba wan, a dish made up of meat, mushrooms and bamboo shoots encased in a layer of sticky chewiness. I love the pinkish sweet and sour sauce that’s poured on top too.
Food that feels like “home” is a little more difficult to answer—I like food so much. I would say the flavor that’s most nostalgic for me is soy sauce. Give me anything cooked in soy sauce, rice wine, ginger, and sugar and I’m good.
Q: What drew you to writing a middle grade book?
A: I didn’t start out writing a middle grade book. I knew I wanted to write about my family’s immigration experience, particularly our first year in America. I tried a bunch of different genres– memoir, adult fiction and even essay. Then, I stumbled upon telling the story from the vantage point of the girl, my proxy. I built the entire story around her voice.
Q: What made you decide to write In the Beautiful Country as a novel-in-verse?
A: I think it goes back to the whole idea of voice. It’s not so much I decided on novel-in-verse, it’s that the story—and really the voice—presented itself to me in this way. The verse form allowed me to distill experiences into their most essential form. I didn’t have to write a bunch of exposition and because of the brevity of verse, I didn’t have to explain so much. I could just plop the reader into “moments”. It was very freeing to write with such little constraints.
Q: In children’s literature, there is a lot of emphasis on the child reader as the audience. Would you say this audience influenced your approach to writing In the Beautiful Country, and if so, how?
A: I am writing for a middle grade audience, but I was very careful not to “dumb down” the story in any way. I think kids go through a lot more than we give them credit for and I wanted to capture that on the page. But I’m not writing just for children. I think a good story is a good story for all.
Q: Immigrants and diaspora are often said to occupy a liminal, in-between space in society. What would you say is the power of exploring liminality in literature?
A: I’m particularly interested in immigrant and diaspora literature because of my own experience, and I guess the simple way of saying it is that I like seeing myself reflected on the page. Literature is such a powerful medium through which to explore not just liminality, but any human experience really. I know that when I read a good book, I feel as if my understanding of “the other” has widened. And I think that’s the beauty and irony of literature, that a very specific piece of writing rooted in a particular space and time has the ability to transport the reader and lead to understanding and perhaps, empathy. When we encounter the other, we see ourselves.
Q: In my opinion, verse as a literary form encapsulates the expression “less is more.” Did you ever find yourself cutting lines or details while writing In the Beautiful Country? If not, what aspects did you find challenging about writing it?
Honestly, it was painful to cut lines, even though I knew it had to be done. It’s like that quote from Stephen King, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
One of the most challenging parts was cutting because even though I spent a lot of time writing the book, I was self-conscious about the word count and wanted to puff things up. At the same time, I really appreciate books that are short. So, I figured I’d return the favor.
Pre-order In the Beautiful Country:
- Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Country-Jane-Kuo/dp/006311898X
- Barnes & Noble – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/in-the-beautiful-country-jane-kuo/1140160276
- Books-A-Million – https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Beautiful-Country/Jane-Kuo/9780063118980?id=8526517511656
- Bookshop.org – https://bookshop.org/books/in-the-beautiful-country-9798200972739/9780063118980
- IndieBound – https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780063118980
- Indigo – https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/in-the-beautiful-country/9780063118980-item.html
- Kinokuniya USA – https://united-states.kinokuniya.com/bw/9780063118980
About the Author
Jane Kuo is a Chinese and Taiwanese American writer who grew up in Los Angeles. She is an author, a nurse, and a nurse practitioner. Jane graduated with a degree in English Literature from UC Berkeley, where she studied under Bharati Mukherjee, Ishmael Reed, and Robert Hass. Also, she once borrowed a pencil from Maxine Hong Kingston.
Jane lives in California with her husband and two kids. Her first novel, In the Beautiful Country is inspired by the events of her childhood.
- Author Website – https://janekuo.com/
- Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22135196.Jane_Kuo
- Twitter – https://twitter.com/janekuowrites
- Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/janekuowrites/
- Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/janekuowrites
Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts, please consider donating to the victims fund for the Taiwanese American church community in Orange County that was attacked this weekend on May 15th by a gunman, or donating to Ren, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese person who needs help with student loan debt and medical bills. Thanks!