Tag Archives: Vintage

Review: Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown
By Charles Yu
Vintage, 9780307948472, November 2020, 288pp.

The Short of It:

The use of satire in this novel is very effective in highlighting Asian American stereotypes and the immigrant experience. Funny, honest but also a little sad.

The Rest of It:

Interior Chinatown won the National Book Award so it’s been getting plenty of attention and I will say that it’s much deserved. You need to know going in that it’s satire and told completely in script format. Hence the title, Interior Chinatown, which is how many scripts begin. Interior, exterior, you get the gist.

Willis Wu has one dream. He wants to be “Kung Fu Guy”. If you’ve ever watched a TV show or movie where Asian American actors are included, you know this guy. He’s the guy that shows up, cleans house with his martial arts skills and has a lot of close-ups. He’s also the guy who ends up with the pretty woman. But Willis Wu is always:

  • Asian Guy Making a Strange Face
  • Asian Delivery Driver
  • Generic Asian Man #1, #2, #3
  • Dead Asian Guy

These roles are played by Willis both in real life and in a TV show called Black and White. His desire to be “Kung Fu Guy” eclipses all things, including his family. He constantly struggles to have enough to eat and yet he’s a good guy and cares for his elderly neighbors in the run down building he lives in by offering a bit of meat to them now and then.

He shows up to work. Does what he is told but through his observant eyes he continually yearns to be “that” person, the person he is not. Plus, his own mother and father lived similar lives. At first the pretty or handsome Asian and then later Old Asian Woman or Man.

There is a very blurred line in this novel between what is happening or what we think is happening. Is it real life or a TV show? Or both? I grew up with a father who cared little about me or his family but cared a lot about Bruce Lee. This infatuation with Lee is also found in this novel. He was bigger than life. He was the one Asian to be. His fame crossed many continents and he married an American school teacher but look at the tragedy that was his life. As you know, his son Brandon also died tragically and on set to boot.

Have you seen the movie Once Upon a Time In Hollywood? There is an actor who portrays Lee at the height of his career. The scene received much criticism for perpetuating Asian stereotypes. Even after Lee’s success in Hollywood, the stereotypes continued. Few movies cast Asian American actors without including a stereotype to go with it.

Interior Chinatown, with its script format and humorous tone will keep you reading and you will chuckle here and there. Yu has a sense of humor but if you sit with it for awhile, you will also note the longing the main character feels and how difficult is is for an immigrant family to make a home for themselves in this country. The story is well-written and balanced. I highly recommend it.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Memory Police

The Memory Police

The Memory Police
By Yoko Ogawa, Translated by Stephen Snyder
Vintage, 9781101911815, July 2020, 288pp.

The Short of It:

Ethereal and beautiful, tinged with sadness.

The Rest of It:

On a remote island, random objects begin to disappear. Birds, roses, ribbons, etc. The inhabitants wake to a feeling of change yet can’t put their finger on what has changed until they interact with others on the island. The strange thing is that the feeling that the disappearance causes precedes the actual disappearance which is followed through to completion by the inhabitants themselves. So when roses disappear, the inhabitants gather up all the roses to destroy them and send them down a river.

The disappearances are enforced by the Memory Police. How they know when someone is holding out is not explained but if someone tries to preserve something that has disappeared, they are taken away. Eventually, when all traces are removed, most of the inhabitants can no longer recall the item at all. All memory of the item has disappeared as well. But there are some who never forget. The memories of these items remain in them, and for some, they’ve even been able to preserve the actual item, such as a piece of candy. As living becomes more difficult and the situation more dire, you can’t help but compare what is going on with Orwell’s 1984.

The three main characters are for the most part, unnamed. Our protagonist, a young woman, lost both her parents and lives a solitary life. She is a writer and befriended by her editor, only known as “R” and a kind old man who knew her mother. The three navigate these disappearances as best they can but “R” happens to be one of the people who can remember and so he must go into hiding with their help. What will disappear next?

This story is beautifully written. I found myself rereading many passages as I went along. The author’s skill at evoking a particular memory is especially wonderful. I found myself mourning all the things we have lost during this pandemic. The smell of a wonderful meal, served to me in a bustling restaurant filled with laughter and happy people. Or I found myself missing movie theatres and that anticipation you feel when the previews roll or the smell of hot buttered popcorn while sitting back to enjoy a really good film. The story made me feel all kinds of things. Yes, it made me a little sad but also hopeful because I am fairly certain that the tangible things we’ve lost during this pandemic are only temporary losses, not like the ones in the story.

The author’s inspiration was Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. This makes sense when you consider the hiding that must take place to keep these people safe. The Memory Police is a wonderful read. I have found a new favorite author in Ogawa and can’t wait to read another book by her.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.