Published by Pantheon on January 28, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Race and Racism
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From the infinitely inventive author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe comes a deeply personal novel about race, pop culture, immigration, assimilation, and escaping the roles we are forced to play.
Willis Wu doesn't perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: he's merely Generic Asian Man. Every day, he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He's a bit player here too. . . but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the highest aspiration he can imagine for a Chinatown denizen. Or is it?
After stumbling into the spotlight, Willis finds himself launched into a wider world than he's ever known, discovering not only the secret history of Chinatown, but the buried legacy of his own family, and what that means for him, in today's America.
Playful but heartfelt, a send-up of Hollywood tropes and Asian stereotypes—Interior Chinatown is Charles Yu's most moving, daring, and masterful novel yet.
Interior Chinatown merges the storyline of a TV crime procedural, Black and White, with the life Willis Wu. He and his parents live a fairly unremarkable existence in small one-room apartments in Chinatown. Their building is above the Golden Palace restaurant where the show is in constant production. Wu and his parents and most of their community drift in and out of the series, playing interchangeable parts and hoping their big break might someday come. And I think sometimes they work in the restaurant which seems to actually be a business, not just a set. Wu is often cast as as the “Generic Asian Man,” and sees himself holding that role in real life too.
It’s a clever book, with parts written as a screenplay, parts as Wu’s inner monologue, and using snippets of true historical documents. But maybe it’s too clever. I appreciated the blurred lines between fiction and reality. I understand that America has been harming Asian people for centuries. I’ve already read articles about and seen the stereotypes Hollywood and modern society enforce. I get that he was going for playful and deep and unique, but it left me not really caring about any of the characters, even Wu.
The ideas and concepts are more important than the characters or storyline. Some readers will overlook that. For me, it made for a quick read that won’t stay with me.