NüVoices Podcast #76: A Conversation with Elaine Hsieh Chou on her debut novel, Disorientation


We’re delighted to have Elaine Hsieh Chou (pronounced “Shay-Chow”) come on the NüVoices podcast to discuss her debut novel, Disorientation, which came out earlier this year. Her book is a hilarious satire on modern day college campus free speech wars, orientalism in academia, “yellow fever”, burnout, misogyny, and more. We talked to Elaine about a frequent topic of conversation in the NüVoices community: who has the right to tell whose stories?

Disorientation follows 29-year-old Ingrid Yang, a Taiwanese American PhD student who is on the struggle bus to finishing her dissertation on Xiaowen Chou, a deceased, renowned Chinese American poet. Frankly, she is sick of studying his poems about cranes, phoenixes, the rivers of his home village, and the taste of congee. After uncovering the dark truth of Chou’s past, Ingrid’s relationships with everyone she knows changes forever. From her academic advisor Michael, who specializes in Chinese art and poetry, to her fiancée Stephen, who is a translator of Japanese literature, Ingrid must confront “her sticky relationship to white men and white institutions—and, most of all, herself.” (Source).

Show notes:

“What White Men Say in Our Absence” a viral essay by Elaine about anti-Asian violence, and the misogyny + exoticism East Asian face around the world (The Cut)

The Hanging on Union Square by HT Tsiang

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

“They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist” a 2015 essay by Jenny Zhang on Michael Derrick Hudson (Buzzfeed)

Interview with Rachel Dolezal: ‘I Definitely Am Not White’ (NBC News)

Recommendations & self-care tips:

Elaine: “For self-care, it’s been very hectic with the book tour but when I have time, I like to watch daily vlogs on YouTube that feel soothing and relaxing. My favorite channels are PlanDOndo and Kiryeong.

For a recommendation, it has to be the Apple+ show Severance! It’s unlike anything I’ve seen, it’s so imaginative and unsettling but also comic at times… I already want to watch it again.”

Megan: “I highly recommend board member Rui Zhong’s podcast, The Joy Luck Book Club! Rui, her sister, and their mother discuss the novel’s successes, failings, and legacy each week. It’s a wonderful intergenerational pod about Amy Tan’s most well known book.”