Pedagogies of Woundedness: Illness, Memoir, and the Ends of Model Minority (James Kyung-Jin Lee)

Reviewed by Katherine Osabe

Content Warning (for review): mental illness, terminal illness
Content Warning (for the book): rape, suicide, mental illness, terminal illness

For the purposes of this book review, I thought it was crucial to the reader to define model minority.

“The model minority designation is often applied to Asian Americans, who, as a group, are often praised for apparent success across academic, economic, and cultural domains—successes typically offered in contrast to the perceived achievements of other racial groups.” (

Asian Americans account for almost 6% of the population in the United States, roughly 20 million individuals. However, the “model minority” lack of perspectives is oddly juxtaposed against an American culture where racial and ethnic concerns, identities, struggles, stereotypes, and discrimination play an outsized role compared to many other developed nations. Lee includes dozens of examples to consider in his goal to provide the reader with a well-rounded understanding of life through the perspective of Asian “model minorities.”

This compilation of memoirs highlights the lived experiences of Asian Americans who have become accustomed to living with and even buying into the “model minority” stereotype, at least partially due to the expectations of meeting unreasonably high standards that are pervasive throughout many Asian cultures.

Lee offers an impressively exhaustive compilation of references, authored by numerous Asian Americans from various ethnic backgrounds, including Chinese, Korean, Indian, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc. The variety of experiences provides thorough exposure of the cultural differences expected and experienced by the Asian communities through life and death.

Lee shares with the reader an in-depth analysis of the pedagogies associated with Asian American expectations in society, but also takes into account the inevitability of death, illness, and feelings of failure.

Lee uses voluminous quotes to help the reader relate to many Asian-Americans’ inner struggles to find acceptance from their traditional Asian cultural identities while also existing as Americans who have been raised in and shaped by American “Western” cultural influences. Living up to ideals with contrasting expectations and high standards exacerbates the perception of failure throughout these shared experiences.

Over a dozen authors are introduced in the preface alone, revealing there are model minorities who do have a voice and are not afraid to confront their cultural reality. Through the authors’ varied and unique while overlapping perspectives, readers can experience deep analytical thoughts of each of the authors’ lives being labeled as model minorities.

I found Lee’s compilation displayed an impressive thoroughness of collation, but not always in a way that benefitted the reader. I often found myself genuinely wanting to know what point Lee was trying to make but found the extensive use of memoir extracts so numerous it was difficult to determine what I was being expected to take away from a given page.

The descriptions of the experiences of life, struggle, desire, defeat, and success unique to the Asian-American communities can be found throughout the book. At times, it felt like a list of memoirs to go read rather than Lee’s own words, whose points often felt lost between memoir quotations. Lee’s examples are summarized succinctly with an expanded lexicon, providing many thought-provoking paragraphs, but also prove to be heavy reading. At times I found myself rereading sentences over and over due to the complexity of the sentence structures, just to absorb what was trying to be communicated.

As an Asian American, I indeed found aspects of these shared lived experiences identifiable in my own nuclear family, but I also found the circular talk and the plentiful references somewhat overwhelming. It felt as if this compilation of memoirs, with Lee’s thoughts peppered throughout the few chapters, was an attempt to rationalize the feelings of “model minorities” in the most complicated sentence structures possible, which I could not help but feel—as an Asian-American myself—was somewhat reinforcing the stereotype.

Perhaps Lee purposefully wrote this book for an academic audience. However, if the idea was and remains to help convey the authentic challenges and hardships that can and do exist in the Asian-American communities to a broader audience, I felt Lee’s vocabulary and structure often got in the way of his ideas, making it difficult to resonate with the material. Nevertheless, Lee’s book makes important contributions to ongoing and much needed conversations about illness, disability, racism, ableism, and the importance of storytelling and memoir.

Title: Pedagogies of Woundedness: Illness, Memoir, and the Ends of Model Minority
Author: James Kyung-Jin Lee
Publisher: Temple University Press
Date: 2022

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About the Reviewer

Katherine Osabe is a 43-year-old Japanese American woman born in New York. She has lived in Tokyo, Taipei, London, Los Angeles, and Chicago. She currently resides in San Diego, California. Katherine holds a Bachelor’s in business administration from Pepperdine University and is completing her last semester of the Master’s Program for Rehabilitation Counseling at San Diego State University. She is a client of the Department of Rehabilitation and hopes to utilize her degree, lived experience, and cultural identity to help others in the rehabilitation counseling field.