Queering/Querying the Text in Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda and Sui Sin Far's "Jamaica Works"
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Anatol, G., & Kim, J. O. (2023). Queering/Querying the Text in Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda and Sui Sin Far’s "Jamaica Works". American Studies, 61(3). https://journals.ku.edu/amsj/article/view/16689


Although African-Jamaican novelist Patricia Powell and Chinese-Canadian writer Sui Sin Far were born a century apart, their artistic works are strongly linked by setting and the authors’ forceful critiques of the British Empire and colonial knowledge production. For Far, the empire supplied a transnational link from Shanghai, where Far’s English father met her Chinese mother, to England and the British dominion of Canada, where she spent her childhood. Less often considered is the time Far spent in the British “West Indies” colony of Jamaica. Correspondingly, Patricia Powell’s 1999 novel The Pagoda, which features a gender-queer Chinese Jamaican protagonist seeking a firm foothold in post-Emancipation colonial Jamaica, holds significance in Chinese Americas historiography and deserves more exploration beyond the book’s conventional categorization as queer fiction of the Anglophone Caribbean. Looking at Powell’s Chinese/Jamaican community in conjunction with Far’s Jamaica stories--particularly “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of a Eurasian” and “The Sugar-Cane Baby”--enables an examination of the ways both authors challenge xenophobic and imperialist regimes, especially those predicated on knowledge production and literacy. Far’s decision to “fight [...] battles” on behalf of Chinese Americans by writing articles in local papers and Powell’s artistic choice to open and close her novel with the act of letter-writing foreground the complex ways that composing and deciphering all kinds of texts can contribute to and subvert empire building, and whether the “master’s tools” can be successfully employed to destroy the master’s house.

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