Bookbed reviews: ‘Interior Chinatown’ by Charles Yu

by Jodesz Gavilan

THE STORY

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. Available in bookstores nationwide / Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

“You came here, your parents and their parents and their parents, and you always seem to have just arrived and yet never seem to have actually arrived. You’re here, supposedly, in a a new land full of opportunity, but somehow have gotten trapped in a pretend version of the old country.”

In this book, Charles Yu dives into the Asian American experience by playing with the stereotypes perpetuated by Hollywood. The protagonist, Willis Wu, dreams of becoming the Kung Fu Guy, much like his father before him.

But his father does not want him to be just that—he wants his son to be more than the Generic Asian Man. But the lives they lead within Chinatown are already predetermined by the showrunners of a cop television show perpetually filming inside the Golden Palace restaurant.

The restaurant isn’t just a setting for a TV show. It is a place mirroring that of the outside world, where first and second generation immigrants put in the hard work for their dreams and later, upon realizing the hopelessness of their situation, for their offspring. Perhaps Golden Palace restaurant is America, where immigrants are the backbone of society.

I thoroughly appreciated how Yu approached an otherwise difficult topic such as immigration, race, and oppression, with much care for the context many lived in for years. He also did a great job in writing these amazing characters and the internal struggles they have, which determined their course of action throughout the novel. I could feel their pain as they grappled with self-identity in a country that put them into boxes, all while demanding them to assimilate.

tl;dr

Inside Chinatown by Charles Yu is brilliant and a can’t-put-down read. There’s humor in places where one can expect sadness and anger. And there’s anger in parts where laughter seems to be part of the canned reaction. And maybe that’s reality. Go read! ☁️

This review is originally published @jodeszgavilan on Instagram. Follow her for more book recommendations. Read our Review Policy here.

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