Friday, September 6, 2013

Quick Thought: The Portrayal of Isabelle's Korean Heritage in Precious Things

I REALLY shouldn't be writing this right now--I should be working on my editing and Forty Nights!--but this morning I saw an amazing blog post on the portrayal of Asian characters in the media by author Cindy Pon.  You can read it here.

In my book Precious Things, my MC Isabelle is part-Korean, but she doesn't know much about that side of her family, and most of her struggles are actually about being *unable* to connect with that part of her heritage.  It's not a huge part of the story, and is really just a smaller part of Isabelle's struggle over not having a mother figure present in her life.  However, Isabelle does look part-Asian, and other characters bring it up a few times.  When Isabelle introduces her heritage to the readers, she says that she considers her eyes her best feature, and that she often gets told they look "exotic and mysterious" because of her part-Korean background.

I waffled a lot over whether to include the "exotic and mysterious" line before publishing the book, and honestly I'm still not sure whether I made the right decision, although I haven't had any reviews comment on the issue.  My motivation for including it is that this is something people DO say, whether it's politically correct or not, and it's something Isabelle could easily have internalized as part of her self-image.  I chose not to have Isabelle think about this much or seem bothered by it because, well, it's not really a huge part of the story, and she's really more concerned about the less apparent parts of her heritage--all the things she doesn't know about Korean culture, for instance.  I didn't want to disrupt the story with a big MESSAGE about stereotyping just to have it in there.

So, what do you guys think?  Was it irresponsible for me to include the "exotic and mysterious" line without really examining it?  If I had put some kind of judgment on the line, would that have made the story too preachy, or just been distracting?

Anyway, here is Isabelle...two different models, but I see her in both of them!


  1. I am no expert at all in the subject, but I see nothing wrong with what you said. It was a compliment, the same - maybe - as commenting on a character's beautiful green eyes.

  2. Good, I'm glad that's how you saw it!

  3. I don't think it sounds like an insult. Guys who have little contact with a part-Korean women would be likely to say something like that and mean it as a compliment.

  4. Thanks for the feedback! I don't think of it as an insult, either--just maybe offensive that Asian women are often typecast as "exotic."