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Tropic of Orange

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  1,396 Ratings  ·  98 Reviews
This fiercely satirical, semifantastical novel ... features an Asian-American television news executive, Emi, and a Latino newspaper reporter, Gabriel, who are so focused on chasing stories they almost don't notice that the world is falling apart all around them. Karen Tei Yamashita's staccato prose works well to evoke the frenetic breeziness and monumental self-absorption ...more
Paperback, 268 pages
Published September 1st 1997 by Coffee House Press
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Tori (InToriLex)
Find this and other Reviews at In Tori Lex

This book was a wonderful rumination of what unites and divides us. The characters explore class, race, real or imagined borders and the violent realities of poverty.  Emi and Gabriel are a couple who chase after stories, and Buzzworm is a man who has the skills and hope to assist a homeless community. All of the characters serve a purpose and their existence and dialogue works on multiple levels. After a slow start I became completely engaged in how the
Jan 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
Take some poisoned oranges, a migrating Tropic of Cancer, busy news reporters and executives, a radio-addicted savior of the homeless, apocalyptic freeway scenes, a traffic symphony conductor, illegal baby organs, a possibly-immortal street performer/laborer/avatar of Latin America, toss them in a stew, add some magical realism, and let it all simmer under the hot L.A. sun, and what do you get? Not sure. It's a bit of a mess. The ingredients didn't even mix well. But hey, not all recipes turn ou ...more
Aug 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Like other readers who have posted their thoughts, I wanted to like this book and it disappointed me. To be honest, it's fairly awful. The plot is convoluted and slow-moving (kind of like the 405 on a Friday afternoon, but in this case the imitative fallacy is not working in Yamashita's favor). The structure of the book tries to liven things up, but instead it backfires and prevents us from getting truly involved in any of the 7 narratives. I could give a laundry list of problems here, but the w ...more
Dec 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Yamashita's Tropic of Orange deserves a place among the best hemispheric American literature, alongside Garcia Marquez, Carpentier, and Paz. Tropic of Orange revises 500 years of the Americas' history through the voices, sounds, and vision of otherwise marginal characters in the crux of Los Angeles: Chicano reporter Gabriel, Japanese-American producer Emi, social worker Buzzworm, doctor-cum-homeless conductor Manzanar, Mexican housekeeper Rafaela and her Korean husband Bobby, their son Sol, and ...more
Apr 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
i! loved! this!
Samantha Allen
Dec 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: for-class
It's a rare thing for me to come across a book that I so vewhemently dislike. Yamashita takes everything -- every metaphor, every character quirk, every list -- about four or five paces too far. I just wanted to scream "okay, I get it!" through so much of this novel. The book switches between narrators, some of whom are first person and some of whom are limited third. The chapters about Bobby, a Chinese Signaporean immigrant living in a Latino world, were especially awful because of the overly-c ...more
Carrie (brightbeautifulthings)
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I added this book to my shelf when I was in graduate school, since it was exactly the sort of thing I was studying there and came highly recommended by trusted sources. What irony that I had to leave school in order to have time to read it.

The story alternates among seven characters of various races and backgrounds living in an L.A. that’s starting to unravel. A series of catastrophic car accidents leaves the highways impassable except on foot, toxic oranges are banned from the city, and rumors
Apr 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is not a good book. Published in 1997, it reads today like a parody of an overly-academic attempt at fiction that just can't resist wearing its recently acquired postmodern learning on its sleeve. It's overflowing with all-too-obvious and on-the-nose references to standard hits of late-nineties Los Angeles-related pomo obsession (e.g., "City of Quartz," "Ecology of Fear," "Blade Runner," film noir, cyberpunk, "Neuromancer," Kuhnian "paradigm shifts," NAFTA, etc.), and at times, it feels as ...more
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Ellen by: Dr. Ruiz-Velasco
I have to be honest. I was frustrated while I was reading this book because I really had no idea what was going on. I knew somehow it all made sense, and I constantly told myself that, but up until the ending of the book, I asked myself: "What the heck did I just read?" Not until after my California Fiction class discussed this book did it really start to make sense. Not perfect sense, but I realized how it made sense. From the beginning of this novel, an insignificant little orange becomes the ...more
Dec 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: for-class
OK. So. Look.

This is one of those books that I should, according to all my usual thyme and reason, enjoy. It possesses just enough magical realism to meet my needs (because I read primarily for escapism), engaging character voices, and initially presents itself as if I'm going to need to pick out the meaning and undercurrents and themes -- the whats, whys, and wherefores of what's going on -- as if it's *meaty*. I enjoy disjointed story lines (because jigsaw puzzles are my friends) and unreliab
May 21, 2011 rated it did not like it
Had to read this book for an English class. It became too convoluted for my taste.
Jan 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Individual stories and voices terrific but found it difficult to follow. Wanted more Buzzworm and Manzanar.
Rosalie Ray
Apr 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing. I haven't liked magical realism in the past, but it was the perfect medium for all that she wanted to convey (plus the organizing grid at the front of the book soothed the engineering/objective/positivist side of me). There are sentences and whole paragraphs that I want to pull out and turn into visual art, if that was something I could do, like the listing of neighborhoods by geography (the hills Beverly and Rolling, the woods Holly Ingle Brent and West, etc.) and the traf ...more
Veronica Barnes
Mar 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
There was something about this book that annoyed me and it took me almost to the end to figure out what it was. Because I did like the book. It's preachy but not "preachy" preachy. It's "cool" preachy. Which I believe today at this moment is needed. And Yamashita had some very valuable things to say and a unique way (the structure of the book was pretty sweet) of demanding that you listen to her. But it was just too much, too preachy. And the ending sucked. Seriously, it just fell totally flat w ...more
Dec 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
This book was well-written and I give Yamashita credit for her (somewhat) subtle critiques on stereotypes, racism, and diversity. The placing of magical elements and happenings was also done well.

But when it came to her overall criticism of globalization, the concept of borders, and the way maps are too general to represent any real areas, it was so overbearing I had to stop a few times.

Her character ArcAngel went from being a stoic and mysterious character to an immature and underdeveloped me
Jul 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: literature
I did not like the magical realism in this novel at all.
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
I don't know what to say. I definitely didn't enjoy it. It was confusing, there was no real ending, and there was magical realism? See it's still a question because I don't know the answer even after reading the whole thing. I think my frustration lies in that a lot of ideas weren't taken far enough and there weren't any conclusions. Is no one allowed to have oranges forever? What about Buzzworm? What happened with Emi? And Gabriel did he just fall off the face of the map? What about Rafaela was ...more
Jan Bant
May 06, 2017 rated it liked it
It was confusing and hard to read at times, especially due to the seven different storylines and the fact that there was not a real plot. However, this book gives an interesting look at Mexican and American culture.
"Tropic of Orange" has been the most representative novel of the Los Angeles I know that I have read thus far in LA Weekly's Best L.A. Novel Ever tournament. I do not know how it was knocked out in the first round (though some of the other reviews of the novel may reveal why).
Clare Fitzgerald
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I think my brain is rotting from not being in school for years because I have no damn idea what to say about Tropic of Orange.

Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita was assigned reading in my Ethic America literature course senior year, which had to be dropped from the syllabus due to some cancelled classes. It then languished for three years in my Ye Olde Stack Of Books What Were Dropped From Syllabi Due To Cancelled Classes But Which I Am Totally Going to Read One Of These Days.

Tropic of Oran
Sally Elick
Mar 07, 2017 rated it liked it
It started out really promising. I was hooked but then half way through, i could see it was going nowhere. There are multiple narrators of different ethnicities but only one managed to keep me going which is Rafaela. The motif of oranges is too explicit. Manzanar's story is too dull and static. I'd skip all the chapters of this narrator. It will save you time and maybe make you feel better about the novel. Sometimes Buzzworm feels the same although he is the comic relief in the novel. Overall, i ...more
Rachel Anderson
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
1.5 stars

Read this for school. It's one of those books that doesn't focus on plot or characters, but on the Societal Meaning. There wasn't really anyone to sympathize with, and no event sequence that made me want to know what happened next. I liked some of the writing and descriptions, so I tried to like it, but for me, it didn't go anywhere with those.

Unfortunately, the writing went off into odd metaphors, with people turning into various animals among them. I wasn't sure if this was intended t
Wendy Joyce
Oct 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The novel whisked me away to Los Angeles, Mexico, and San Diego. I jumped from place to place, traveling with an assortment of friends—black, white, Japanese, Vietnamese, Mexican—all good friends. Their flaws were glorious, their insanities loveable, their lives unforgettable. When they hurt, I cried. When they fought, I championed their battle, and when they vanished—the last page read—I returned to reality, unsettled and disoriented, requiring hours to regain my bearings.

It's a rich, complex,
May 24, 2011 rated it liked it
I get it. . .I think. I mean, it is left open unresolved, murky in places. Yamashita brings us to the borderland of making neat meaning by tying together the various plots and characters - all of whom seem simultaneously as distant from one one another as they are strewn closely together by fate and southern Calixican geography - but then leaves us there. . . who died? what is this crescendo of freeway music conducted by a homeless ex-surgeon from atop an overpass that ends with airbags bursting ...more
Camille Barrera
Feb 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Very heavy handed on the social justice issues, and the "OMG, information age!" aspect of the book has definitely not aged well. The "magical realism" doesn't feel very magical but rather clunky and academic, with groan-worthy paragraphs like the following:

"But imperceptibly the silken thread unfolded and tugged itself away, caught between their ephemeral embrace. They straddled the line -- a slender endless serpent of a line -- one peering into a private world of dreams and metaphysics, the ot
Sep 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: magical-realism, ya, 11-12
This novel is wonderfully confusing, ridiculously unique, and extremely relevant. It completely abides by the magical realism genre and is more magical and real than the genre itself. There are connections made to Latinx culture, globalism, oppression, gender identify, assimilation, sexuality, religion,the black market and probably more things that I may have missed. The amazing thing about this novel is that all of those real connections are created so clearly and strongly by Yamashita. The con ...more
Jan 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to me by Juan Felipe Herrera. Different characters whose stories intertwine, somewhat, at the end. I loved the metaphor of toxic oranges to symbolize LA in the new millennium. What metaphors represent your city experience? It's poetic and dystopic, not apocalyptic, like some are saying. It's not doom and gloom. It asks you to look below the surface of sunny LA and find a lot of interesting and toxic life. Makes you think about the freeway as an alternative space, makes you re-imagine ...more
May 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is one of my all time favorite books. I read it for my Asian American fiction class, and it changed my life. Yamashita's ability to write distinct, dynamic characters set in surreal universes is awe-inspiring -- I think she's amazing. I'm surprised that this book doesn't have higher ratings, but also am not surprised because I think it takes a lot to understand the many intricacies and nuances that exist in this universe.

This book is for people of color, it's for border crossers, it's
Jordan Cummings
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: culture, fiction

I was shocked to see all the good reviews on this book. I was very disappointed with it and did not enjoy it at all. I felt as if I could not follow the plot whatsoever. It has an apocalyptic feel to is, as if the whole world is falling apart and none of the characters really realize it. Bizarre things are happening throughout the story, like spiked oranges that kill people and non-stop accidents on the highway. The Tropic of Cancer is a big topic of the book, but I still am unsure how it all ti
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Born January 8, 1951 in Oakland, California, Karen Tei Yamashita is a Japanese American writer and Associate Professor of Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, where she teaches creative writing and Asian American literature. Her works, several of which contain elements of magic realism, include novels I Hotel (2010), Circle K Cycles (2001), Tropic of Orange (1997), Brazil-Maru (1992 ...more
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“No single imagination is wild or crass or cheesy enough to compete with the collective mindlessness that propels our fascination forward.” 3 likes
“Then you are a poet?' she asked, fingering the flyer in her pocket.
'No not at all,' he waved his hand. 'I am merely a character in a poem.”
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