Member Reviews

I absolutely loved this memoir — it’s also much more than a memoir, it also serves as a call-to-action. I loved these chapters that were so personal to Lee but also so empowering to someone who also often finds herself very angry with the world, with America, and with race relations here. I love that Lee concisely and succinctly defines it for all of us who find ourselves confused: racism is the fault of white supremacy.

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Can I say that this should be required reading? I really appreciated this perspective of what it's like to be Asian in America. I related very much to what the author wrote and the complexity of relationships surrounding other communities also experiencing struggles under white supremacy within the country.

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Julia Lee is not amused, and she’s decided to say the things nobody else is saying. In this deeply analytical, provocative memoir, she tells us about her own experiences growing up, and the issues faced by Asian immigrants and Asian Americans in the United States, where “we are critical to the pyramid scheme of the American Dream.”

My thanks go to Net Galley, Henry Holt Publishers, and Macmillan Audio for the review copies. This book is for sale now.

In some ways, I feel as though I am reading someone else’s mail as I read this, because it is clearly intended for an audience of people of color. However, I did read it, and I’m going to review it.

When the discussion of race in the U.S. comes about, it is, as Lee states, almost always a conversation about Black people and Caucasians. Those that don’t fit into either group are sidelined. Perhaps more harmful is the way that people of Asian descent are presumed to be sympathetic to the status quo. Ever since a major news periodical dubbed Asians as “the model minority” back in the early 1960s, expectations and assumptions have leaned in that direction. And the roots of this division—Black versus Asian—make this a particularly thorny assumption to untangle. After all, a large percentage of African-Americans can trace their lineage to slavery; their ancestors weren’t born in the States, nor did they choose to come here, but were kidnapped and brought by force. Angry? You bet! But Asian immigrants came of their own accord, oftentimes fleeing untenable circumstances in their countries of origin. And so, their children, and those that have come after, have largely been indoctrinated to be appreciative. If things don’t go well, they tell them, then we must work harder!

This Caucasian reviewer comes to you without the Asian background, appearance, or experience that Lee speaks of; yet I live in a city that has one of the largest Asian populations in the U.S., and am married to an Asian immigrant, and parent to a child that is half-Japanese. So many of the stories—strangers that ask where you’re from, and won’t accept the truth of “California,” where Lee was born, or “Seattle,” my daughter’s hometown, are familiar ones.

Lee is fed up with the mainstream news stories that endeavor to pit Asian and Black people against each other. Her parents were small business owners in a mostly Black part of Los Angeles during the riots of 1992, and her experiences inform her conclusion, that there must be solidarity between all people of color in order to successfully fight for significant change.

The one bone I have to pick is the casual manner in which she dismisses the question of social class as a key factor. Her very brief note about this is that it’s a tomato and to-mah-to issue, not worth much discussion, because most people of color are working class. This is simply untrue, and it enforces a stereotype of Black people as being mostly poor and dispossessed, when in actuality, eighty percent of Black people in the US live above the poverty line. There are African-Americans that have far more money than I will ever see; some of the many Asian groups have a higher median income than Caucasians. So yes, social class is a huge factor here, one that Lee should examine more critically. There are working class Whites that can be allies; there are wealthy families of color that would shut down the struggle, given half a chance. The missing star in my rating reflects her failure to recognize this, and to offer concrete solutions to this problem.

The book’s title comes from Lee’s mentor at the otherwise very white-supremacist dominated Harvard—Jamaica Kinkaid. I actually gasped when I saw this. What a luminary she found to guide her!

Both the audio and print version of this book are equally readable, so go with whatever you usually prefer.

This is a fine resource for those seeking to examine Asian and Asian-American racial dynamics. Read it critically, but do read it. There’s a lot here that has needed to be said for a long, long time.

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Julia Lee wants to debunk the stereotype of Asians being the model minority, who are seen as quiet, passive, acquiescent, sweet and polite.

The truth, she says, is that Asians are full of rage - first at their mothers for insisting on saving face, teaching their children to be decorous and always polite in public; and at the stereotypes of Asians propagated by society, starting at school, and the racism and classism many times shown by students, teachers, and school administrators.

The author goes through the history of immigration in America, including
the banning of Asian immigration for 60 years, before the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 relaxed the quotas. She cites the Korean shopkeepers caught up in the LA uprising and states that black versus Asian and minority myths are propagated by society at large to keep the minorities at war with each other and to keep the white majority on top.

She sees a solution in having all people seen as humans, not as a racial group, and be treated as human beings, and not as just belonging to a minority group.

The author is convincing in the history and the facts she presents for her case, and very detailed, giving multiple examples of racism and the violence and self-hatred that it can propagate. There is so much more to this book than I can cover here, but I recommend it highly as relevant to everyone living in America.

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"Be a human to the human in front of you." That is one of the lines from the book that has really struck a chord with me. I don't normally gravitate towards nonfiction or memoirs, but this was my book club's pick of the month, as one of our book club members is friends with the author. And I'm so thankful it was the pick because this is an amazing book, and I walked away learning so much. Lee centers her memoir within the context of race as a binary system in America, specifically detailing how she struggled in a system that positions minorities to see other people of color as rivals. There is so much emotion and knowledge packed into a relatively short book! This book is a call to action, memoir, and a lesson in racial studies, all written in such a humorous, honest, vulnerable and direct way. Thank you NetGalley for the early copy.

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Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for the ARC. This is definitely one of my favorite non-fiction books of this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the author's direct writing style and stories which resonated with me. This book is part memoir and part commentary on race/belonging as an Asian American. The author was born in Korea and came to the US as a very young child. Following the Korean War, her parents came to the US looking for a better life, moving a few times due to schooling and jobs but settled in the South Bay/Los Angeles area. The author attends a predominantly white private high school and goes on to Princeton. Even though one may think this is a success story, the author goes on to tell of the trauma and otherness that society tells you directly and indirectly and that as an Asian American, she is neither Black nor White. So where does that leave her? Only until she meets Jamaica Kincaid during her PhD program and becomes her mentor that she's given the advice that provides a way forward (love how this became the title of the book) and she truly feels seen by others, first being a casual meeting with Henry Louis Gates Jr. She brings it all together at the end to share what she's learned and possibly how we can find ways to work with other minority groups to bring about true change.

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Wow. There is SO STINKING MUCH packed into this relatively short book (256 pages). As a Korean American, I resonated with a lot of what Lee said. I found it almost cathartic to see some of my own feelings and lived experiences expressed.

Biting the Hand was equal parts memoir, racial studies, and call to action. In it, Lee fights the oppressive systems of power (racism & classism, esp) while beautifully weaving her personal stories throughout. She openly analyzed her struggles and the lessons learned as a young girl growing up in an immigrant household and now as a mother to her own daughter.

I loved how many other BIPOC authors and books she sited throughout her work, and honestly wish this would've been longer! If you've read and enjoyed Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong (4 stars) and White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad (5 stars), you need to pick this one up!

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As an Asian American woman similar in age to author Julia Lee, reading this book felt strangely cathartic. There's a lot packed into this deceptively short work, as it merges the boundaries between memoir, racial commentary, and race studies as a whole.

Julia Lee grew up in an area in LA that was predominantly Black; as the child of Korean immigrants, she watched as her parents struggled to raise her and her sister in a foreign country, all while realizing that the ways she was different from her peers and neighbors were innumerable, and many more than skin-deep. She herself that she was complicit in the dogma that many Asian families follow - work hard, keep your head down, go to a good (Ivy League) college, and be happy.

But... is that it? Julia looks back on her childhood, noting the the classicism she saw even as a child between races, the way money was the largest delimiter. She raises the looming issue of mental health, how poorly addressed and recognized it is in the Asian American community, and the underlying anxiety and depression that many struggle with. When discussing the simultaneous demeaning and fetishization of Asian women, she doesn't shy away from calling out the sheer absurdity of the situation. She also calls out her own flaws and misgivings, noting how her own generational trauma has been passed down to her daughter, something she tried her best to avoid doing. Despite being part of the "model minority" that has benefitted in the racial structure in America, Lee argues that it's not right to simply be silent - it's time to bite the hand that feeds us.

Growing up in a similar environment, there was so much in Lee's writing that rang true to me - and the issues and questions she raises are ones that need to be addressed at large.

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Biting the Hand is a fascinating memoir about Julia Lee, a Korean-American woman in her 40s, who has lived predominantly in Los Angeles. I loved her perspective as someone who was filled with rage, but couldn't quite pinpoint the cause, because there seemed to be many. She was a teenager during the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, and frames her experience and the events well. I really appreciated her reflection on her childhood and how she perceived so many things through the lens of internalized racism, stereotypes, societal and familial expectations. As someone who has always lived in the US, her perspective and history is so different from her parents, who were subjected to war in Korea in the 1950s and emigrated to the US in the 1970s. I listened to the audiobook, which is perfectly narrated by its author. Overall, a very gripping memoir spliced with historical and local context.

Thank you Henry Holt / Macmillan Audio and NetGalley for providing this ebook/audiobook ARC.

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Book review/ARC: Biting the Hand by Julia Lee


It seems I have found a new “obsession”: memoirs/autobiographies written by BIPOC and their experience growing up, trying to fit in. The way they dealt with struggles & obstacles, with racial abuse both psychological and physical along the way, the lasting impact these challenges have left on their lives, from infancy to adulthood. Julia Lee’s Biting the Hand is another memoir that falls into this category, and she tells her story with a lot of clarity, compassion and a good amount of (justified) anger.

Julia Lee, a professor of African American and Caribbean literature, candidly describes her childhood and college years, as well as her plunge into the world of employment, and how growing up in a predominantly Black and white America has shaped her as a person and her political views. At the same time, she reflects on elements of Korean culture that many may not be familiar with (such as “Han,” a feeling of collective trauma and memories of sufferings imposed upon the Korean people in the name of oppression).

My interest in these books is partly rooted in my own background. The stories told are personal, but the feeling of alienation and isolation, the search for identity, the trouble of fitting in and finding one’s path are all sentiments I can relate to. Perhaps these books make me feel vindicated, or less alone, and perhaps that makes me biased when it comes to reviewing them. But I want to see more of these books like Biting the Hand, want to hear more of these voice just like Lee’s. Their (our) stories deserve to be told and to be listened to. There should be room for their (our) reflections and opinions, for all the pain and for all the rage.

Thank you @netgalley @henryholtbooks & @profjulialee for the ARC. Biting the Hand will be published on April 18 and is available for pre-order.

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Books like Biting the Hand are the reason why I love going into biographies/memoirs knowing as little as possible. Julia Lee is very candid about her life growing up with traumatized immigrant parents, dealing with poverty, struggling with academia (as a student and teacher), and dealing with white supremacy as well as anti-blackness. Check this book out if you're someone who's interested in books like Heavy by Kiese Laymon, Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, or Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong.
Thank you to Netgalley and Henry Holt and Co. for the e-ARC.

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Excellent writing and memoir from Julia Lee on her life and the exploration on who she truly is.

It's a battle cry to all mixed race people to explore their history, to educate themselves on their ethnic histories and to recognize the privilege that is allowed one race to another.

This is an important story, an important book for the now. This should be required reading in jr high's across the nation.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review.

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I very much enjoyed this memoir about woman growing up as a minority in America and navigating cultural situations.

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This is one of my favorite reads from 2022, and I cannot wait for it to be released in April (2023) so more people can read it. It was hard for me to put down. Admittedly, I thought this was titled, "Growing Up Asian AND Black in White America" when I first requested an advanced copy. As someone who is Black and Asian, I thought this was going to be a book I've been waiting for and highlight my unique, mixed-race experiences more intimately. While this was written about Asian Americans, so much of this book resonated with me. I still feel seen in these pages. She puts words to many of the feelings I've had or things I've experienced - how Asian women are made into sexual fetish objects, how we're taught to be quiet, stay small, work hard, and be grateful.

It's refreshing to see an Asian writer tackle anti-Blackness and white supremacy and also our collective humanity. Lee writes about the white gaze, microaggressions, internalized racism, and tackles the harmful “model minority” stereotype, or the belief that success among Asian Americans is universal. She writes about how it dangerously exacerbates interracial tension and does not acknowledge the socioeconomic disparities among the diverse range of communities categorized as Asian-American. The model minority myth perpetuates a myth that Asian Americans are not afflicted by racism and disregards a longstanding history of racially-motivated aggression and discrimination in policy against Asian Americans (e.g., L.A.’s 1871 Chinese Massacre, the Page Act of 1875, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese Internment Camps). Lee highlights how "the threat of violence and retribution are constant, and...ensure that I continue to regulate my behavior, even when no one else is around."

Lee understands that racism has a cost for everyone. As she puts it, "white supremacy culture is scarcity culture. It relies on gatekeeping, shaming, and exclusion," it is a zero-sum game and our participation is "critical to the pyramid scheme of the American Dream."

As its title states, Lee has bitten the hand that fed her (parent, teacher, college, nation). Appreciating her upbringing doesn't mean she (or any of us) is eternally beholden to those who raised, educated, and governed her; "I'm not a horse who must be broken by its master into submission." She wrote that the greatest legacy she can leave her daughter is the ability for her daughter to decide for herself which traditions she wants to keep, what she wants to tweak, and finally, what she wants to create anew. "We, too, are America".

Many thanks to Henry Holt & Company, NetGalley, and Julia Lee for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Such a fascinating book! Julia Lee can definitely write. Now that I'm in my early 40's, I'm starting to really enjoy non-fiction. Julia talks about her childhood in California, growing up with immigrant parents from Korea. She is very open about her disrespect towards her hard-working parents, who sacrificed so much for her and her younger sister, so they could have better lives. I appreciate Julia's honesty and how she felt growing up felt lost as a Korean American in a ritzy school. Halfway through the book kind of drags, but in the end, I truly enjoyed this book. Julia Lee is candid, funny, and heartfelt when she talks about racism in black and white America.

Thank you, Netgalley and Henry Holt for the digital ARC.

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Born in Orem and adopted as a baby, I identified a lot with the author, and have struggled with any of the same issues as her. Loved reading her perspective on things and just seeing more by Koreans out there

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