The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee

Observations on Not Fitting In

Publisher: Vintage
When you come from a mixed race background as Paisley Rekdal does — her mother is Chinese American and her father is Norwegian– thorny issues of identity politics, and interracial desire are never far from the surface. Here in this hypnotic blend of personal essay and travelogue, Rekdal journeys throughout Asia to explore her place in a world where one’s “appearance is the deciding factor of one’s ethnicity.”

In her soul-searching voyage, she teaches English in South Korea where her native colleagues call her a “hermaphrodite,” and is dismissed by her host family in Japan as an American despite her assertion of being half-Chinese. A visit to Taipei with her mother, who doesn’t know the dialect, leads to the bitter realization that they are only tourists, which makes her further question her identity. Written with remarkable insight and clarity, Rekdal a poet whose fierce lyricism is apparent on every page, demonstrates that the shifting frames of identity can be as tricky as they are exhilarating.


Age sixteen, my mother loads up red tubs of noodles, teacups chipped and white-gray as teeth, rice clumps that glue themselves to the plastic tub sides or dissolve and turn papery in the weak tea sloshing around the bottom. She's at Diamond Chan's restaurant, where most of her cousins work after school and during summer...
Read More


“Paisley Rekdal has taken that universal question—Who am I?—and added to it another dimension: What am I? She has looked in the mirror, as well as the world around her, to examine issues of identity, ethnicity, culture, and race. No polemics here, just observations and experiences of the most personal kind. And she’s funny too!”
—Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family

“Makes us feel and see the complicated and violent nature of the issue of race and identity. Rekdal writes with eloquence, liveliness, and poignancy—a truly impressive achievement.”
—Ha Jin, author of Waiting

“She is the sort of observer we should all wish for: disarming, frank, and intelligent. In setting out to explore three realms—China, Japan, and Korea—she ends up learning much more about another one: herself.”
—Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha

“Insightful and idiosyncratic…. Rekdal’s essays are so engaging that it takes while to realize how much they reveal about the delicate, shifting balance between the ways others perceive us and how we choose to define ourselves.”–Us Weekly

“An engaging and artful memoir…poetic not in its diction but in it elisions, in the spaces she allows between thoughts.”–The New York Times Book Review

“Compelling, appealing, cinematic. . . With this entire collection, Rekdal refreshes the meaning and the image of being displaced in this world.” — The Boston Globe

“Remarkable. . .A keenly intelligent, restless witness to her mixed-race life, Rekdal is a writer with a deep and urgent story to tell.” — Newsday

“An engaging and artful memoir. . .poetic not in its diction but in it elisions, in the spaces she allows between thoughts.” — The New York Times Book Review