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Tropic of Orange

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  1,014 ratings  ·  63 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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257th out of 451 books — 1,947 voters
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107th out of 224 books — 116 voters

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Community Reviews

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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
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
Samantha Allen
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
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 06, 2011 Ellen rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Rosalie Ray
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
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
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
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
Camille Barrera
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
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
Clare Fitzgerald
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
Wendy Joyce
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,
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
Jordan Cummings

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
This is the worst book I have ever read. If it wasn't required reading for a class, I would never have even picked it up after having read the back, let alone finish it. I know the author is trying to make a point, but when I hate the story so much, it's hard for me to even want to listen to the message the author is trying to get across. And those were the messages that I understood! There was plenty in there that just left me dumbfounded but too annoyed to care. I didn't like the characters, a ...more
- Required reading for California Ethnic literature, Spring 2010

This was a beautifully crafted novel, following a few characters who wound their way in and out of each others lives. This is a story based in LA around a tragic traffic accident that affects all the narrators in this novel and their lives. Races clash and borders are re-drawn.

I have to admit, the Arc Angel's passages were the most difficult to follow. My favorites were Buzzworm's and Manzaar's. Both men on the street and in the kno
This could unfairly be called a magical realist novel, but that wouldn't address the immensity of its scope. Six non-white narrators convey they events of seven days in contemporary LA and Mexico, which include: an enormous traffic accident on an LA highway that allows the homeless to set up a new community in a mile-long stretch of abandoned cars; the illegal trafficking of baby organs and drug-laced oranges; and (most importantly?!?) the bending, stretching, and folding of time-space as the pe ...more
An interesting and engaging post modern critique of race, the city of angels, and boarders.
Peter Wolfley
This book gets crazy because it's full of magical realism and post modern writing technique. Yamashita bites off a ton in this one as she deals with social, cultural, historical, economic, and political issues. I found this one really opening me up though to think about things in a way I haven't done before which is one of the true signs of a good book. My main criticism is it seems like she loaded up a shot gun full of plots, symbols, meanings, archetypes, cultural references, and political com ...more
Amazing. A story of 7 different characters who stories and lives somehow intertwine into an amazing story of magical realism and the mixing of cultures. A must read
Alex Robertson
3.5. just wish she could write less hammy dialogue
Covers various stories that tie together. Characters are all from backgrounds and ethnicities. Based primarily in Los Angeles area as well as Mexico. Does a good job capturing the feel and speech of the characters and the life of the city. Interesting story- I've heard people say they had a difficult time keeping track of characters, but I didn't have a problem. The concept of how its written and put together is pretty interesting as well.
Okay, postmodern, we get it. Sheesh.
Mar 20, 2011 Morgan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: LA Residents
Recommended to Morgan by: My boss at the library
This was okay. The way she described the dragging of the tropic line was interesting. However, Yamashita was really preachy, yet somehow she still managed to be not terribly coherent about what she was preaching. I liked the different chapters with different styles and the way the characters interacted though. It was okay in terms of the magical realism genre, but after finishing this novel I'm getting back to my Borges.
Theresa Carlson
(I'll start off with the standard) I wanted to like this book so much but.... Tropic of Orange seems to be nothing but a jumbled mess of storylines. The characters fall really flat. I felt they were only there for the sake of "multiculturalism" in L.A. In my opinion, that left the characters very underdeveloped and uninteresting. I was expecting a lot more and finished the book with a ton of disappointment.
My favorite books are also always my least favorite because they make me feel so inadequate as a writer.

I can't do her story justice, but every detail is so expertly and intricately connected to every other one- and every character is somehow bound to all of the others. It's just such an amazing piece of fiction. It will compel you to read it for as long as your eyes will let you.

This is a good book to read for research or if you'd like to learn about postmodern transnational fiction. It makes intelligent progressive arguments and contains interesting experimentation with form. However, the characters aren't really fleshed out and I didn't really care about what happens to them. I also found the book quite predictable and repetitive after a while.
I liked this novel; however, I do think some of it is overdone--as though the author were trying to put in too much. It has a "Crash" sort of feeling. I want to read more of Yamashita's work to see how she evolves as a writer. Great potential here. I may teach Tropic of Orange next time I teach Ethnic American Lit. It's definitely a Los Angeles novel.
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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
More about Karen Tei Yamashita...
Through the Arc of the Rain Forest I Hotel Circle K Cycles Brazil-Maru Anime Wong: Fictions of Performance

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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.” 2 likes
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