Book Review #19: Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (2020)

Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Interior Chinatown
Author: Charles Yu
Published: 2020 (Pantheon Books, New York)
Pages: 266 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Satire, Hollywood, Cultural
Link Here

Borrowed copy of Interior Chinatown on my desk next to a cat statue I’ve had longer than I care to admit

I hope everyone is continuing to stay safe and healthy this week! Pandemic economic issues in the US have finally caught up to me so long story short, I will have more time for reading and posting reviews (yay!). Not the best situation, but I plan to make the most of my time. I have several projects lined up including catching up on reading, and writing reviews.

They zoned us (Chinese) and kept us roped off from everyone else… Chinatown is and always has been, from the very beginning, a construction, a performance of features, gestures, culture, and exoticism. An invention, a reinvention, a stylization. Figuring out the show, finding our place in it, which was the background, as scenery, as nonspeaking players…. To watch the mainstream, find out what kind of fiction they are telling themselves, find a bit part in it. Be appealing and acceptable, be what they want to see” – Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown

I loved this sharp and clever story in Charles Yu’s new 2020 release, Interior Chinatown. Yu creates a fantastical studio universe addressing unfairly typecast Chinese stereotypes in U.S. TV shows and film through the story’s protagonist, Willis Wu. Wu’s only dream is to play the role of ‘Kung Fu Guy’ instead of his typical ‘Generic Asian Man’ role. Plus, this book is written like a film script to heighten the studio setting, which to be honest, was creative and I loved it.

The book’s underlying theme is not a new topic of discussion. Different POC groups have been victims of Hollywood typecasting and lack of leading roles since… pretty much as long as TV shows and films in the U.S. have been made, and it is definitely a problem. Different organizations and figures have been trying to address and promote change on this issue for some time now. But not with a lot of change when it comes to casting Asian/Asian-American persons in the U.S.. This book made me think of a New York Times Style Magazine article by Thessaly La Force about the issue, click the link here to read more. La Force cites “..It is only when we are hidden that we are allowed to succeed. Which leads to a more troubling but inevitable conclusion: that there is something about the very physiognomy of the Asian face that American audiences still cannot or will not accept” (Why Do Asian-Americans Remain Largely Unseen in Film and Television?, 2018, Thessaly La Force, New York Times Style Magazine).

He is asking to be treated like an American. A real American. Cause honestly, when you think about American, what color do you see? white? black? We (Chinese) have been here 200 years….the German, the Dutch, the Italian, they came here in the turn of century; they are Americans. Why doesn’t this face register as American? Is it because we make the story too complicated?” – Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown

Overall, I enjoyed this book’s commentary on cultural stereotypes and discussion of race within the TV and film industries in the U.S.. If anything, I believe everyone should read this book only for that. Yu flawlessly uses humorous prose and lines to bring to light issues we should be discussing regarding Asian/Asian-American oversight in the previously mentioned industries. And even if social justice commentary is not your ideal read, the book is well-written, entertaining and contains a cleverness sure to catch the reader’s attention.

Who gets to be an American? What does an American look like?” – Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown

I give this book a 4 out of 5!


4 thoughts on “Book Review #19: Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (2020)

  1. This sounds right up my alley! And with the additional racism against Asians and Asian Americans right now, good timing as well. I remember reading and loving the La Force article when it came out – it hit on so many sensitive spots in the Asian American experience but needed to be said (but sadly, change is slow).

    Liked by 1 person

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