Book Review: Making Paper Cranes by Mihee Kim-Kort

Making Paper Cranes
Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology
by Mihee Kim-Kort [Mihee on Twitter]
Pre-order on Amazon

First, Mihee is a friend and colleague.

Second, I am in awe of my friend and colleague.

When I review a book by a friend, I am always a little nervous. What if it isn’t very good? What if I disagree? What if it just does not feel it was written by the person I know? Well . . . from the first sentence, I was hooked. This book is very good: culturally provocative, theologically solid and written with a narrative flair.

It begins with a honest and telling sentence.

“I know. It’s a bit cliche, making paper cranes-especially an Asian person doing origami.”

Mihee, a Korean American Presbyterian immigrant woman, takes us on a journey of honest self-discovery employing a wry sense of humor, keen cultural insight and an ability to ask and respond to powerful questions with which we can all identify.

In the first part of the book Mihee unpacks some of the realities of growing up as an Asian American women in the United States. As one who has a degree in Asian American Studies, I think Mihee does a wonderful job at surveying the vast ways in which Asian Americans in general and Asian American women, in particular, face exclusion and otherness. Mihee captures the nuances of being Asian in a society that often thinks of culture and race as a conversation between Black and White.

when the teacher is reading from
some book about the history of the people around her
something about pilgrims, slavery, wars, the Great Depression
it is supposed to be her history, too
but no one looks at her and things that
this yellow girl belongs in the same story
the story of America

An excerpt from a poem that Mihee wrote, paper margins, page 44-45

The last part of the book dives into some theological thinking, but not in a way that one might expect. The tone does not change, nor does the weaving in of personal stories that give depth to the thinking that we are asked to undertake. I love her nuanced look at “fragmentation” not as a negative occurrence, but as a process that we must all go through, culturally and theologically. What makes Mihee’s treatment of both culture and theology is that she does not call us to follow a tidy linear progression, but rather to an embracing of a spiraling web that does not create anxiety and confusion, but rather liberation and discovery.

As I reflect on my own faith journey, I realize a number of painful pieces that make up who I am. Some pieces I have chosen for myself, but other pieces have been forced upon me, whether according to assumptions and stereotypes, or in relation to categories about race, culture, gender or generation. I am learning how to feel this fragmentation by embracing the disjointedness as my own unique experience while recognizing the necessity for engagement and inquiry. I am slowly realizing how I have navigated and continue to operate and live through this fragmented existence. – page 74

In the end, Making Paper Cranes is not a book that should be limited to only Asian Americans, women or church folks, but rather this book should be read by any and all who yearn to know better and understand the complexities of American culture. While Mihee’s story is told through the lens of a Korean American Presbyterian immigrant woman, when we think about American history, in reality it is the story of us all.

Thanks Mihee.

Mihee includes a GREAT bibliography on race, culture and theology. Some highlights:

Bruce’s 2012 Summer Reading List

If you’re anything like me, there’s a stack of books sitting in your home that, every time you walk past it, the bindings stare you down longingly pleading, “Read me. Please read me.” to which you reply, “Soon, books, soon . . . as soon as I have some free time.”

Yeah riiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

Unlike some members of my family who have a gift for curling up with and disappearing into a book for hours on end, I am easily distracted and often ready 3-4 books at a time.  Summer is one of those times, however, that I am often able to carve out chunks of time to read. I read for both fun as well as “work” all with an eye towards expanding my current thinking and broadening my view of the world.

Five’ish I am reading for my own enjoyment.

These are ones that I’ll be reading via my Kindle or in actually book form. Many of these books are what I affectionately call, Brain Candy. Many of these books keep me sane amidst the other great content I try to absorb along the journey. Please do not judge 😉

The Alienist (a re-read) by Caleb Carr – I have read this one 3-4 times and am riveted each and every time.  Set in the late 1890’s New York City, it is a must-read for you historical crime fiction lovers out there. While some of Carr’s other books were not as gripping, Carr’s follow-up to The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness is also a great read.

Shift!: The Unfolding Internet – Hype, Hope and History by Edward Burman – Don’t let the the price tag discourage you. Because this is used as a text book in many places, it can be found through various other means. I found mine for less that 10 bucks via another amazon seller. Just started this one and it is one of those books that looks like a quick read, but every sentence and paragraph is packed with meaning. If you are a social media person, I would highly suggest this one if you want to REALLY understand how and why we have gotten to where we are today.

Koko Be Good by Jen Wang – This one has been sitting on my shelf ever since RKP introduced me to graphic novels. The illustrations are simply beautiful and the story is intriguing. I will admit that I have failed before at trying to read graphic novels in the past – Watchmen – but am hoping to jump in again.

In reading order, I am jumping on the Seth Grahame-Smith train by checking out from my library  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and/or/then Unholy Night and/or/then Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance. I will admit, other than my own cute zombie, vampires and other communities of undead have never really been my thing. But since a colleague recently told me that Grahame-Smith’s tales were worth a read, I’m giving them a try.

Five I am reading and hoping to review this summer.

These are books that will accompany me on my trips in actual book form, be generously marked up and be reviewed on this blog.  If you happen o review any of them yourself, please feel free to send me a note or leave a comment here and I’ll link to your reviews.

Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort

Follow You, Follow Me: Why Social Networking is Essential to Ministry by John Voelz

The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation by Stephen Prothero

Geography of Grace: Doing Theology From Below by Kris Rocke and Joel Van Dyke

On My Honor: Real Life Lessons from America’s First Girl Scout by Shannon Henry Kleiber