14. A collection of poetry: Diamond Grill by Fred Wah
List Progress: 13/30
My reading patterns and attention span have definitely taken a hit in the midst of social distancing, and my previous racing speed through my reading list slowed down a lot this month. I thought that tossing in a collection of poetry would be a good way to speed things up, and while I frequently enjoyed myself with Fred Wah’s Diamond Grill, it had the opposite impact on my pace. A slow, meditative journey of combined poetry and prose, tracing Wah’s life growing up biracial in his father’s Chinese restaurant, this collection can be lovely. But it can also be overlong, and I ended up feeling like I knew more details about the eponymous Diamond Grill than I knew real statements from Wah.
This collection is a piece of “biofiction” tracing Wah’s childhood in the 1950’s. His mother was the daughter of two Swedish immigrants to Canada, and his father was half-white, half-Chinese, but raised in China from age four into his early twenties. So Fred Wah grew up in small town Canada, three-quarters white and reading as white to strangers, but bearing a Chinese last name and growing up in the cultural microcosm of a Chinese diner. This collection does a lovely job of capturing every detail of the diner, from prices to recipes to the lives of the people working there to the overlapping culinary worlds of Western diner food for customers and Chinese food cooked for the staff and Wah’s family. I think that these poems could pack a lot of punch individually or in a smaller collection.
However, Diamond Grill as a whole feels too dense and like it covers similar or the same ground too many times. I am sure this would feel very different to me if I was seeing my own experience (and my biracial Canadian and Japanese roommate is eager to borrow this book after me). But I walked away from the collection with too much surface detail, feeling somewhat stuck in a glut of anecdotes and memories. Individual pieces still stood out, but most got lost in the whole. I am glad I read Diamond Grill, but also wish I had spread it out a bit more, reading a poem or two at a time rather than trying to mainline it. I might just need to change my approach to poetry collections, and return to this one at another time.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, but not all at once.