The Disabled Speech of Asian Americans: Silence and Autism in Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Father of the Four Passages

Kristina Chew


In this essay, I examine Lois Ann Yamanaka’s novel in regard to other recent novels about autism (Daniel Isn’t Talking by Marti Leimbach (2006) and Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern (2006)). I consider how the characters of autistic children often function as a “narrative prosthesis,” a kind of a catalyst to get the plot going. I look at the themes of silence and coming into speech in Asian American literature in order to show how they overlap in texts about autistic children and their mothers. Reading Father of the Four Passages in the context of other Asian American novels, I suggest that Sonia’s Asian American heritage provides her with an alternate experience of cultural alienation that leads to her acceptance of Sonny Boy and his differences. Finally, I provide a critique of standard, white, middle-class narratives of autism, which dominate the literature and which perpetuate troubling stereotypes.

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Copyright (c) 2010 Kristina Chew

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