When a former writer for the famous HBO series, West World, decides to bring to you a book on the struggles of an actor hoping to make it past a certain glass ceiling but unable to do so due to issues of race and ethnicity, should you read it? The answer would be yes; without doubt, a million times yes! I stumbled upon this book the first time when I was perusing popular lists of “Must Read Books Of 2020”. This book, “The Interior Chinatown” by Charles You, was featured on way too many lists! In fact, I was amazed by the number of five-star reviews that were accorded to this book on Goodreads.
Interior Chinatown (Review)
Needless to say, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to give this book a try, wanting to know whether it was just hype, like it often happens with highly talked about books. Believe me, when I say this is NO hype! This is a book that all SHOULD read. Witty, creative, authentic, thought-provoking, impactful and entertaining, is it any wonder that this book won the National Book Award for Fiction! Still not convinced? Let’s dissect this ingenious novel one element at a time, starting with the plot!
“Old Asian Man looks at you, a look of disappointment flickering across his features with each accented word. You playing this part, talking like a foreigner. The son who was born here, raised here, a stranger to his own dad for what. For this. So he could be part of this, part of the American show, black and white, no part for yellow. The son who got As in every subject, including English, now making a living as Generic Asian Man.”
“I wanted better for you,” he says.
― Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown
Willis Wu, an actor, working on the sets of ‘Black and White’, a cop show akin to Law & Order, has been there and done it all – Background Oriental Male, Oriental Guy Making A Weird Face, Disgraced Son, Delivery Guy, Silent Henchman Caught Between Two Worlds, Guy Who Runs in and Gets Kicked in the Face, Striving Immigrant, and Generic Asian Man. But Willis Wu wants to be more than just the Generic Asian Man; since childhood, all he dreamt of was playing the Kung Fu Guy, a very special role that only a handful few get to don in their lifetime!
Living inside the walls of the Golden Palace, Willis longs to break the stereotypical roles accorded to Asian people, unlike his own parents, who also followed the set trajectory, ultimately arriving nowhere, their talents wasting away. However, when a certain turn of events eventually lands him his long-awaited role, he realizes that every dream comes with a cost, thereby forcing him to confront certain truths about his life he had been ignoring up until then.
Contained in a little over 280 pages and written in the form of a TV show script with the entire plot divided into seven acts, this book will have you hooked right from the start and consume you whole! On the surface, it might seem like just another story about the entertainment industry, but underneath it all, it addresses a whole gamut of issues starting with the prevailing systemic racism and racial discrimination to projecting ethnic characters (in this case, Asian) on screen that has a damaging effect on the social perception of ethnic identities in society.
Willis and his parents’ mounting frustration at having to behave like a caricatured Asian with the typecast accent is extremely heart-rending. And while, in reality, we see instances of Asian Americans breaking out of the mold and creating histories for themselves, we can’t deny that they are only a few and far. There are many of them out there who are still accorded a foreigner status. Charles Yu has very subtly and effortlessly highlighted these issues while staying true to the plot.
While focusing on Willis Wu’s journey, the book is also home to a lot of well-drawn-out supporting cast, who are central to the storyline and add different dynamics to the story. In addition, the style of writing that is part narrative, giving us a peek into Willis’s innermost thoughts, and part screenplay is both unique and refreshing.
In so many ways, this book was truly a great eye-opener! It made me want to revisit all the famous TV shows and movies I have enjoyed over the years to see to what extent ethnic characters have been stereotyped onscreen. I now hope I have successfully convinced you as to why this book is a must-read. If you were to read only one great book this year, may this be the one! Bold and poignant, this is a read that will stay with you for a long time! You can get the book here! 📖
When a former writer for the famous HBO series, West World, decides to bring to you a book on the struggles of an actor hoping to make it past a certain glass ceiling but unable to do so due to issues of race and ethnicity, should you read it? The answer would be yes; without doubt, a million times yes! I stumbled upon this book the first time when I was perusing popular lists of "Must Read Books Of 2020". This book, "The Interior Chinatown" by Charles You, was featured on way too many lists! In fact, I was amazed by the number of five-star reviews that were accorded to this book on Goodreads.
Author: Charles Yu
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