March 23, 2021

Book Club Event Review: The Dancing Girl and the Turtle

The AAPI Caucus was thrilled to host DA member and author Karen Kao for our discussion of her novel The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. The first part of her Shanghai Quartet, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is a harrowing, immersive story of loss, violence, and power during one of the most tumultuous times of Chinese history.

A central theme in our discussion was the impact of society on violence and relationships. We spoke about how societal expectations and stigma shape trauma, the link between sexism and shame, xenophobia and historical context, and the influence of class on safety and power in 1930’s Shanghai. 

As part of our author Q&A, we also spoke extensively about the process of doing research for the novel. Ms. Kao told us about the stories she heard in her youth that inspired the story and how she used her family’s letters to flesh out details and characterize the time period and setting. We also discussed how Asian-American identities play into fears about authenticity and honesty when writing about China, and how a European or American perspective changes the way we read historical texts. 

Ms. Kao’s perspective as a Chinese-American writer was invaluable to our discussion, not only on an artistic level, but also on a personal level as we carve out our own spaces to discuss AAPI diasporic identities, especially far away from home. 

For readers wishing to read her novel, information on ordering the book directly from the author can be found here (scroll down to the end).