The Heart of Hyacinth, originally published in 1903, tells the coming-of-age story of Hyacinth Lorrimer, a child of white parents who was raised from infancy in Japan by a Japanese foster mother and assumed to be Eurasian. A crisis occurs when, 18 years after her birth, her American father returns to Japan to reclaim her just as Hyacinth has become engaged to a Japanese aristocrat, and she forcefully asserts her Japanese ties only to find that her prospective father-in-law will t tolerate a white wife for his son. Oto Watanna creates in her protagonist a young white woman who t only claims a Japanese identity but shifts between her Japaneseness and her whiteness as expediency dictates. In this vel Watanna is on the cutting edge of what we w call race theory, using that theory-of racial constructions and fluidity-in the service of an avant-garde feminism.
Onoto Watanna (pen name for Winnifred Eaton) was a popular writer of American romance novels. Daughter of a Chinese mother and English father, she used her own mixed heritage to explore diverse social issues and exploited the Orientalist fantasies of her readership to become a best-selling author. Samina Najmi is visiting assistant professor in English at Wheaton College and has written extensively on women and race in Asian American literature.