Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu: A review

Charles Yu presents his book as if it were a teleplay set in a Chinatown restaurant called the Golden Palace. The restaurant is the setting for a cop show called "Black and White." Yu's protagonist, Willis Wu, is a bit player on that show and through him, the author considers the stereotypes about Asians and Asian-Americans that are stock in trade for Hollywood. His portrayal of these cliches is utterly devastating. Also quite funny.

And so we learn about "Background Asian Male," "Dead Asian Man," "Generic Asian Man Number One, Two, and Three," and, of course, "Delivery Guy." These are all roles played from time to time by Willis Wu. The role that he really, really wants to play is "Kung Fu Guy," but he never gets the chance. 

We gradually come to see that not only does Wu play these roles on the television show, but he also to some extent inhabits them in his real life. Through these roles, we learn his character.

We also meet Wu's father, Sifu, who himself was once a "young dragon" and martial arts expert but has now passed into the role of "Old Asian Man." Sifu loves the songs of John Denver and he loves singing karaoke featuring "Country Roads." Yu describes white people making fun of Asian-Americans doing karaoke, but he writes of Sifu:
"When he steps up and starts slaying 'Country Roads,' try not to laugh...because by the time he gets to 'West Virginia, mountain mama' you're going to be singing along, and by the time he's done you might understand why a 77-year-old guy from a tiny island in the Taiwan strait who's been in a foreign country two-thirds of his life can nail a song, note perfect, about wanting to go home."  
It is a brief sketch through which we understand Sifu's character and Yu has such character sketches throughout. These sketches not only reveal the characters, they also develop the plot

Yu has written for television shows such as "Westworld" and the quirky "Lodge 49," which my husband and I recently watched, and Interior Chinatown continues his string of unique works. It is essentially a darkly funny book about racism and the way that Hollywood's reliance on stereotypes to tell its stories helps to perpetuate such racism and continues to maintain the status quo. Yu makes his points subtly, without hitting us over the head. It is very effectively done.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 

Comments

  1. Sounds good. It sounds creative and smart.

    Stereotypes lead to bad things.it is really ashamed that our entertainment industry so readily perpetuates them.

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    1. It is a very creative and effective way of presenting a difficult story.

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  2. We do have a way of perpetuating stereotypes don't we, sometimes in the most innocuous ways, but stereotyping nevertheless. Sounds like an appealing read, Dorothy.

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    1. I was a bit taken aback by the structure of the book when I started reading it, but I very quickly settled in and let the story carry me along. It was indeed an appealing and thought-provoking book.

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  3. Willis Wu sounds pretty funny ... and it appears the book makes its points about stereotypes & racism quite well. I'd like to check it out.

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    1. It is an interesting read. I think you might like it.

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  4. It's sad that most sectors of society only perceive a culture through Hollywood stereotypes because unfortunately it closes most people to the idea that most people, regardless where they are from, are more alike than they are different. Still, that the author is able to make light of them, yet drive his point home, is commendable.

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    1. Humor is often a good way to make a serious point.

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  5. I thought this book was so well done. Brilliant, really.

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  6. I will add this book to my reading wishlist!!

    P. S. For whatever reason, the comment you left on my blog post about 12 Novels About Pandemics wouldn't publish. A glitch perhaps?? Not sure what happened. If you want to try leaving another comment feel free to do so.

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    1. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

      That's weird about the comment not publishing, but I'll try again later.

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    2. Audible has a 2 for 1 sale going on for the Labor Day weekend, so I was able to add Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu to my 'tbr' pile. I'm currently listening to another audiobook and am hoping to read Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu.

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