> Zed Book Club / In Simu Liu’s Memoir “We Were Dreamers,” Marvel’s First Asian Superhero Tries to Live Up to His Parents’ Expectations

Photo: Greg Williams/August Images

> Bookshelf

In Simu Liu’s Memoir “We Were Dreamers,” Marvel’s First Asian Superhero Tries to Live Up to His Parents’ Expectations

In an excerpt from his book, the Shang-Chi star describes telling his parents he got the role, and tries to trick them into saying “I love you.”  / BY Kim Honey / June 30th, 2022


When Canadian actor Simu Liu went to the 2022 Oscars in a custom red Versace tux and black patent leather loafers, he looked “smoking hot,” a phrase he employs liberally in his memoir, We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story. In an intimate, conversational writing style peppered with F-bombs and lots of jokes, the guy Canadians know and love as Jung Kim on the CBC-TV sitcom Kim’s Convenience digs deep into the pain of a kid trying, and repeatedly failing, to live up to his parents’ impossibly high expectations. The boy who would be Shang-Chi, the first Asian Marvel superhero, spent a lot of time feeling like a burden. 

Liu was a “left-behind child” – a term non-governmental organizations use to describe children raised apart from their parents – who was entrusted to his grandparents’ care in the northeastern city of Harbin when his mother and father emigrated from China to seek a better life. When he was almost five, his father plucked “máomao” (a pet name for children, which, roughly translated from Mandarin, means little furry caterpillar) from his grandparents’ home in Harbin, and they flew to Canada to join his mother. He started life here – in a new culture and a new language – with two people who were essentially strangers with no parenting experience.

Liu, 33, does not gloss over the verbal and physical abuse he endures from his parents, who never show affection. “I became convinced that my parents did not love me; they loved having a child who was ‘gifted,’” he writes. And so, as a teenager, he rebels. When he gets into the elite University of Toronto Schools, he’s obsessed with being “the cool kid on campus” and gets a disappointing 82.6 average; at Western University’s Ivey Business School, he blows a chance to get a good summer internship; when he calls in sick to play Xbox and work as an extra in the Toronto film industry, he loses his accounting job. Luckily, the acting gigs pick up and, when he is 27, he lands the Kim’s Convenience role.

 

Simu Liu
RING LEADER: Liu with fellow Kim’s Convenience actors (from left) Andrea Bang, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Jean Yoon and Nicole Power, at the 2019 Canadian Screen Awards. Photo: George Pimentel/Getty Images

 

An activist for more normalized Asian representation in the entertainment industry and media, and less racism towards Asian immigrants, Liu hopes his frank depiction of his family’s experience will help others “learn from us and steer themselves from the same mistakes.” 

Liu did reconcile with his parents, and they were the first people he told about getting the lead in the 2021 box-office hit Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

“On that day I became more than just a comic book character – I became a part of an idea that everyone deserves to see themselves as superheroes, as the leads of their own stories, or simply, just as multifaceted beings with hopes and aspirations and flaws,” he writes.

In this excerpt from the book’s prologue, Liu relates the FaceTime call to his mom and dad to break the news, and how he and his best friend, actor Jason Chan, try to trick them into saying “I love you.”  Kim Honey

 

Simu Liu

After Jason and I hang up the phone, he races over to my apartment and we hatch a plan to record my parents’ reaction to the news over FaceTime. He stands just out of my camera’s view as I dial my dad’s cell, anxious to break the news to the people who raised me. Like me, I know they’ve probably had a bit of trouble eating and sleeping these past couple of days. I want this call to bring closure not only on this movie, but to their entire lives spent in the pursuit of a better life for our family.

I want to tell them that their better life has finally come.

The call connects: “Wei, Máomao! What’s going on?”

The moment I see my dad, a slender fifty-nine-year-old man with more salt than pepper in his hair, I feel my throat begin to close up. It’s been thirty years since he left his home in China to eventually settle in a suburb outside Toronto – over twenty of which he has been a working professional with dental coverage – and yet, the man has never bothered to fix his horrendously crooked teeth. I think he was too busy paying for my braces, my education and my apartment to notice that he looked like a jack-o’-lantern whenever he opened his mouth. I should also mention that he cuts his own hair – don’t ask me how.

“Hey, is Māma home? Can you put her on, too?”

Mom hates when people know her real age, so let’s just say she’s not exactly a spring chicken anymore. You’d never know it looking at her though – she’s got a smile that radiates youthful energy and a flawless complexion that owes itself to religious use of Estée Lauder’s Night Repair Serum. A white man mistook her for my wife many years ago during a family ski trip, and she hasn’t shut up about it since. I don’t have the heart to tell her that he was probably just trying to hit on her.

“Máomao! What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, I, uh . . .” I take a deep breath.

“. . . I just wanted to tell you that I got it.”

It feels like eons before my parents respond. When my dad finally speaks, it sounds like someone’s just told him his dry cleaning would be ready on time.

“Oh . . . okay! That’s good!”

 

Simu Liu
“My own convocation, 15 years later [after his parents’ convocation in 1996]. My mother appears to have found the exlixir of youth during this time.” Photo: Courtesy of Simu liu

Four days from now, after watching a livestream of me walking out onto the stage of the infamous Hall H at the San Diego Comic-Con to the thunderous applause of eight thousand die-hard fans, my parents would finally understand the significance of landing a role like Shang-Chi. For now, though, they are simply happy that I got a job. We talk for a few more minutes about stupid things like money when I see Jason motioning for my attention. Say I love you, he mouths. I nod, already knowing what my parents’ response to this will be.

Exchanging I love yous was a uniquely Western custom, and I had long ago come to terms with the fact that my parents expressed their love in a very different way – by telling me to put on a jacket, asking if I had eaten yet, or yelling at me when they felt like I wasn’t studying hard enough. The actual words were not a part of my family’s vocabulary growing up at all.

 

Simu Liu
“Mother and son, circa 1996; still one of her favourite photos of us.” Photo: Courtesy of Simu Liu

 

Still, it would’ve been pretty nice to hear them say it.

“I gotta go, so I just want to say goodbye, and of course, I love you.”

“Yeah, yeah – stay calm,” my mother says.

“A new day has begun,” my dad adds, wistfully.

Maybe they just didn’t hear it? Just to be sure, I double down.

“I love you. Bye.”

There’s a short pause. Jason and I look at each other, wondering if one of them is going to prove us wrong . . .

“Yes, go go go,” my mom says. “Thank you for letting us know.”

“Yep,” my dad chimes in the background. “Bye-bye!”

BEEP. The call ends, and Jason and I burst out
laughing. 

Excerpt from We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story by Simu Liu ©2022. Published in Canada by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

THE SCROLL

Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ Continues to Break Worldwide RecordsThe book also seems to have put a dent in the popularity of members of the Royal Family — including the Prince and Princess of Wales.


Prince Harry’s Memoir Breaks U.K. Sales Record On First Day of ReleaseThe publisher of the new memoir, 'Spare", says it had sold 400,000 copies so far across hardback, e-book and audio formats.


Barack Obama’s Favourite Books of 2022The former U.S. president’s 13 titles include Canadians Emily St. John Mandel and Kate Beaton, as well as tomes from Michelle Obama, George Saunders and Jennifer Egan


Here are the 5 Books on Bill Gates’ Holiday Reading ListThe billionaire philanthropist is giving hundreds of copies to little libraries around the world


Sheila Heti and Eli Baxter Among 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award WinnersToronto writer Sheila Heti took home the fiction award for 'Pure Colour,' a novel the GG peer assessment committee called "a work of genius."


Suzette Mayr Wins $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for ‘The Sleeping Car Porter’The 2022 Giller Prize jury called Mayr's novel "alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary."


Writers’ Trust of Canada Awards: Authors Nicholas Herring, Dan Werb Nab Top PrizesThe Writers' Trust of Canada awards amounted to a combined monetary prize value of $270,000.


Bob Dylan Releases ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song,’ a Book of Essays Dissecting 66 Influential SongsIn his new book, Bob Dylan offers up both critique and historical insight into various musical recordings of the last century by a variety of popular artists.


Prince Harry’s Memoir ‘Spare’ Will Be Published in January 2023The long-awaited memoir will tell with "raw unflinching honesty" Prince Harry's journey from "trauma to healing", his publisher said on Thursday.


Sri Lankan Author Shehan Karunatilaka Wins 2022 Booker PrizeKarunatilaka won the prestigious prize on Monday for his second novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’, about a dead war photographer on a mission in the afterlife.


Canadian Council for the Arts Reveals Governor General’s Literary Awards FinalistsThe finalists for the Governor General's Literary Awards spotlight books in both the English and French language, as well as translated works.


New Penguin Random House Award Named After Michelle Obama Will Honour High School WritersMichelle Obama Award for Memoir will provide a $10,000 college scholarship to a graduating public school senior based on their autobiographical submission.


French Author Annie Ernaux, 82, Becomes First French Woman to Win Nobel Prize for LiteratureThe author said, of winning, that "I was very surprised ... I never thought it would be on my landscape as a writer."


Hilary Mantel, Award-Winning British Author of ‘Wolf Hall’ Trilogy, Dies at 70Wolf Hall, published in 2009, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, released three years later, both won the Booker Prize, an unprecedented win for two books in the same trilogy and making Mantel the first woman to win the award twice.


Prince William “Cannot Forgive” Prince Harry, According to ‘The New Royals’ Author Katie NichollPrince William “just cannot forgive his brother,” according to Katie Nicholl, author of 'The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown.'


Five Finalists Announced for Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for NonfictionThe winner — to be announced on November 2 — will take home the annual $60,000 prize.


Peter Straub, Bestselling American Horror Writer, Dies at 79Friend and co-author Stephen King has said the author's 1979 book, "Ghost Story," is his favourite horror novel.


Rawi Hage, Billy-Ray Belcourt and Sheila Heti Make the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize Long ListThe jury read 138 books to choose 14 titles for the long list, one of which will win the $100,000 prize, one of the richest in Canadian literature


Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.


Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.


Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.


Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”


Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956


Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."


The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.


American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history


Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.


Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."


New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.


Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.


Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."


European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."


Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.


Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.


Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.


Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro


“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.


Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories


Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel


South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 


Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.


Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events


Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards


Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde


Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 


Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members


Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations


Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


> STAY UP TO DATE

Sign Up for the Weekly Book Club Newsletter