After having subjected myself to a bunch of clueless reviews by clueless white people I found a few that don’t praise this piece of orientalist shit to high heavens. Score!
The book was ambivalent for me by this time, but the introduction of the titular character, Emiko the Windup Girl, was horrendous, cringe-inducing, and it would have been really nice to have read a review beforehand which gave me a TRIGGER WARNING. Made in Japan (really? Japan? Ya don’t say), unsuited for this equatorial climate and sexually abused for her exotic Other-ness, Emiko’s arc is supposed to give us some indepth introspection into the state of a character who must overcome everything that is instinctual in herself, built into her genes, in order to gain mastery of herself.
If this concept wasn’t so real, so close to the reality of so many women all over the world, it would still be yawn-worthy, as the idea of a woman overcoming her upbringing, eventually snapping and reacting violently against her sexual abuse is extremely overdone and not just an android thing. As a woman, I am huffy that this cheap route was taken, and not just a little frustrated that once again, a female titular character is subjected to the sexual abuse narrative as the Worst Thing To Happen To Her. As an Asian, I am infuriated that Bacigalupi chose Thailand, already reputed for its sex tourism industry, to portray the abuse of a female character. Realism aside, do we assume that this happens nowhere else? Would the story have been different if it had happened in an European country? But no, it has to be Thailand, because shit like this is normal in Thailand, amrite?
OH MY GOD EXACTLY. EX-FUCKING-SACTLY.
The lack of justification for changing the geographical landscape notwithstanding, it would have been nice if Bacigalupi had paid some tribute to the actual history of what had really happened, and segued with that, as opposed to jumping straight in with his fabricated Thailand and Malaya. It implies that there is no reason to explore why Malaya has degenerated into what appears to be xenophobic fundamentalism, when for centuries, we’ve been known to be one of the most open ports for foreigners and ethnic groups have co-existed. Not only that, but Thailand’s vibrant culture is ignored in favour of a purely gritty depiction, in which corruption and poverty is tantamount.
Thailand and its inhabitants are given no such cultural markers, except for monks (placed in charge of Thailand’s greatest treasure: gene samples) and the denouncing of Jaidee. As a result, the story could be set anywhere. Jaidee and Kanya could be Joshua and Carrie. Why Thailand? That is a question to which only Bacigalupi knows. What is the result? Yet another novel in which a foreigner re-writes the history of a culture that doesn’t belong to him, blending fact and fiction in a blend which is unrecognizable. The sexual abuse of Emiko didn’t have to happen in Thailand; are only Asians so mistrustful of androids? Or is it expedient to view Asians as backward enough to avoid progress? Where is the deviation from actual history, and why is it not important to mention?
YES. YES EXACTLY. SEE? SEEEEEE?
Emiko, the titular Windup Girl, is of Japanese design and make. She is designed to serve and to please. She walks and moves in this stutter-start, I can’t remember the exact words used but the description clearly evokes the geisha-walk. So here, in her characterisation and description, Bacigalupi is clearly using the stereotypes of the geisha girl. The novel is set in Thailand. As you may be aware Mei Hua, Thailand has a significant sex trade, it’s pretty well-known. Did you know that Emiko, left behind by her owners in Thailand, finds work in a strip club? Emiko is introduced to us in chapter three, where another of the club’s employees rapes her, at the behest of the customers. This rape scene is lovingly described in terms that are all about caressing and stroking and she comes to orgasm because that’s what she’s designed to do.
Let me draw a line for you from one to the other. She’s Japanese, she’s subservient, she’s built to please; she lives in Tokyo and is part of the sex trade. This orientalist claptrap is just ridiculous. Helen Merrick, at the bookclub panel, suggested that perhaps Bacigalupi introduced these themes in order to interrogate them, but didn’t quite manage to do so. I am not so kind, I don’t think he had any intention of interrogating them, or he wouldn’t have spent so much time so lovingly describing them.
YESSSSSS. CALL THIS GUY OUT. CALL HIM ALLLLL THE WAY OUT.
For a shit-crust topping on the shit-cake, have a gander at what Bacigagaga wrote in 1999:
In the end, it’s what I always say to Chinese people in China. It’s what they want to hear: an affirmation of country and culture and a stroke for their nascent sense of superiority, which these days they’re nursing into a full-blown complex. “China’s great,” I said again. “I’m so glad to have a chance to come back here and travel. See new scenery. The Three Gorges are great. Very beautiful.”
I’m such a liar.
My restaurant companion looked at me more closely and asked, “And what do you think of the Chinese people?”
Cold and heartless, but nice if you’re in their clique of friends. “They’re great, too,” I said.
Twelve years ago? Yes. Perfectly consistent with the raging colonialist text, brimming from cover to cover with racist stereotypes, he wrote not so long ago? YES. Never forgive, never forget. Never feel any guilt for mocking, eviscerating, and hounding this man. Link my posts, link Jaymee Goh’s post, link them. Spread the word that Paolo Bacigalupi is a raging racist fuck. Let him be hurt, let him bleed, pound him into the fucking ground. No mercy.