Book review: Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s “You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is In Braids”

Book review: Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s “You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is In Braids”

Climate change is the canonical Inconvenient Truth, but all truth is inconvenient, because it’s messy. The most seductive lies are the tidiest ones, and Frances Kai-Hwa Wang isn’t afraid to make a mess of any tidy assumptions readers might have.

You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is In Braids is a new book of prose poetry from Wang, a writer and activist who’s an expert on the complex histories of Asian America and the ways those histories are flattened by the machinery of white supremacy. Her artistry and scholarship have taken many forms; this 100-page volume is the form she’s chosen to tell an intimate story about a painful but revelatory juncture.

The book opens with reflections on dislocation, being born “in the slipstream of the diaspora.” Deeper dives into a Chinese heritage will follow, but only after a quick pivot to “the third great love of my life”: a man. “I like being in public with him, the physicality of it all, wool coats and leather boots,” Wang writes. “No one looks through me when I am with him.”

Although the narrator is open about her uncertainty, she’s far from naive. You Cannot Resist Me is a work of mature consideration, of hard-learned truths. It’s a highly specific personal history, but one that’s situated in a broader historical context.

One piece touches on the intersection between racism and a pandemic; another references the acquittal of George Zimmerman and recounts teaching a “sweet and naive multiracial nine-year-old baby boy” how to “make himself small in front of police and strange white men with guns.” A common thread is the challenge of making a loving home in a world that’s not safe.

The book is full of life, a celebration of things that make it worth living — including, but not limited to, food, make-outs, and friendship. While dense with layers of human experience, it’s a quick read because the rhythms of Wang’s direct language draw readers swiftly along. The prose-poetry format allows Wang to skip without preamble straight from one poignant moment to another, with her eyes open to the simple pleasures, profound mysteries, and lurking terrors of the human experience.

In the final pages of You Cannot Resist Me, the narrator recounts struggling with what story to tell, how to use her voice. In choosing to tell her own story, she tells many — and in so doing, reminds readers to embrace the complexities and contradictions in our own lives.

Jay Gabler