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Interior Chinatown

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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 the protagonist in his own life: he’s merely Generic Asian Man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but always he is relegated to a prop. Yet 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 most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. 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. Infinitely inventive and deeply personal, exploring the themes of pop culture, assimilation, and immigration—Interior Chinatown is Charles Yu’s most moving, daring, and masterful novel yet.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published January 28, 2020

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About the author

Charles Yu

54 books1,485 followers
CHARLES YU is the author of four books, including his latest, Interior Chinatown, which won the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, and was shortlisted for Le Prix Médicis étranger. He has received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award, been nominated for two Writers Guild of America awards for his work on the HBO series Westworld, and has also written for shows on FX, AMC, Facebook Watch, and Adult Swim. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Wired, Time and Ploughshares. You can find him on Twitter @charles_yu.

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5 stars
15,361 (30%)
4 stars
22,708 (44%)
3 stars
10,245 (20%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,431 reviews
Profile Image for Yun.
508 reviews19k followers
April 25, 2022
The first Chinese came in 1815. . . . Why doesn't this face register as American?
At its core, Interior Chinatown is a meditation on the Chinese American immigration and assimilation experience. It tackles this through a heavily metaphoric screenplay about a Generic Asian Man forever stuck in the background of a police procedural called "Black and White." He is not privileged like White, nor is he oppressed like Black. Yet he is relegated to the sidelines, never able to be the star of his own narrative.

I can see why this book received so much recognition. For such a quick read, it packs a punch. It's sharp, unusual, and compelling. To be honest, it left me a bit conflicted afterwards. On the one hand, it unearthed some feelings I generally try to keep buried, being a first-generation Chinese American immigrant myself. But on the other hand, it only just skimmed the surface of its potential.

One of the most interesting things about this book is its unique screenplay format. It took me a few pages to get used to, but once I did, I couldn't look away. Quite often, it's not clear if we're reading the perspective of the main character Willis Wu or the character that Wu is playing in the police drama. And I think that ambiguity is on purpose, since they are both characters limited by their circumstances.

Aside from the format, this book reads like a memoir to me, with the author putting a lot of himself into it. And as in all cases with memoirs, I want to respect the author's deeply personal experiences. However, his experiences don't always align with mine. And since mine are such a deeply ingrained part of me, it was hard for me at times to separate out my own personal feelings and approach this as a neutral party.

Because this subject is quite familiar to me, I was hoping for a deep dive. But while the book touches upon many topics—assimilation and the barriers against it, longing for a place to belong, the gulf between generations of immigrants, and the long term financial and emotional impact of discrimination and racism—it doesn't go far enough in any of them for me. But I believe most readers who don't have personal experience in this will find it insightful and eye-opening.

One thing this book solidly achieves is that it opens the door to a conversation about the Chinese American immigrant experience, something that had previously been lacking. I am always so heartened to see diverse voices and representation in literature. I hope this is just the beginning of Chinese American authors getting the space and recognition they need to share their stories.

Let me close up by offering a personal thought. For me, one of the most difficult things about immigrating to another country, especially one that does not share a similar language or culture, is that you end up losing bits and pieces of yourself in the process. When you think about it, a person's language and culture is intrinsic to the foundation of who they are. So in order to fully assimilate, you must renounce crucial parts of yourself and take on a new persona. It is an extremely difficult journey, but to do so and have your new country not accept you, that is heartbreaking indeed. Because then you are unmoored. You cannot go back to the person you were before, for that country and culture has left you behind. Nor can you go forward to your new country. You have become a citizen without a state, a person without a home. Your only recourse is to forge a new culture that is a bridge between the old and the new. But not many others can truly understand and share that with you, so you are forever trying to find that connection with the few who do. That is one of the defining characteristics of the immigrant experience for me.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 117 books156k followers
November 10, 2020
Wildly innovative; a perfect marriage of form and function.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,821 reviews497 followers
January 29, 2020
This book is brilliant. It shows what you can do when you write with perception, humor and creativity about something you have experienced and understand intimately. No cultural appropriation here. He’s also one of the writers on the HBO series West World, so he understands TV too. The book tells the story of Willis Wu and his Chinese American family. Their story is interwoven inventively with the description of the generic roles that the Wu’s and other residents of their SRO play in a TV series. The roles range from Generic Asian Man #1, to Special Guest Star, to Recurring and (if you are really lucky) to Kung Fu Guy. Once you reach Kung Fu Guy, you hit a ceiling. It’s virtually impossible to make it to Generic Man. Willis meets Ethnically Ambiguous Girl who “gets to be objectified by men of all races”. The characters are on the sidelines in a society that lumps all Asians together, and never wanted them here. I loved this book. I’d read more by this author in a heartbeat.
Profile Image for Sofia.
267 reviews6,160 followers
April 9, 2021
*inhales sharply* *screams*
This book makes me feel seen.

Interior Chinatown is a humorous look at Asians in film and the roles Asians in general are forced to play. There's Kung Fu Guy, Generic Asian Man, Tiger Mom, Asian Seductress... Asian people are shoved into boxes that don't always fit them, and they're forced to conform.

"You speak English well. Really well. It's almost like you don't have an accent."
Shit. Right. You forgot to do the accent.

It's the little things that stood out to me. The raising of voices when Asian people are around, as if they don't understand you. The surprise when they speak without an accent.

You know the thing that people do sometimes with Old Asian People. The sort of half-assed sign language except it's not sign language at all, just a made-up pantomime, as if Old Asians won't otherwise be able to understand anything you're saying.

Maybe it's the dream of the open highway. The romantic myth of the West. A reminder that these funny little Orientals have actually been Americans longer than you have.

It's the stereotype that honor is all that drives Asians. I see this over and over in movies and books, even from Asian authors. It's like we're robots that can only speak a single word - honor. And honestly, I'm tired of it. I need some duplicitous, clever Asian characters. I need a main Asian character. I need someone who's not a caricature.

You practice the words you will have to say.
"I did it for my family's honor, officer."
"I have disgraced my family and now I must pay the price."
"Without face, I have nothing."
"Honor means everything in my culture. You wouldn't understand."

However, I sometimes thought the humor was a bit too much. There were deeper moments hidden between the comical elements, and I wished these would have lasted longer. It felt imbalanced to me at times.

There we go. The two words: Asian Guy. Two words that define you, flatten you, trap you and keep you here. Your most salient feature, overshadowing any other feature about you, making irrelevant any other characteristic.

Towards the end of the book, there were a few very powerful monologues. I highlighted so much. They spoke to my soul.

"He's internalized a sense of inferiority. To White people, obviously. But also to Black people. Does he realize that? He thinks he can't participate in the race dialogue, because Asians haven't been persecuted as much as Black people."

"But the experience of Asians in American isn't just a scaled-back or dialed-down version of the Black experience. Instead of co-opting someone else's experience or consciousness, he must define his own."

The whole book was building to this final act, and it hit hard.

"This is it. The root of it all. The real history of Asian people in America. Two hundred years of being perpetual foreigners."

4 stars
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,914 reviews35.3k followers
October 7, 2020
update: CONGRATS... nominated a National book award!!

Generic Asian man, Golden palace, ethnic recurring
Striving immigrant, kung Fu dad, The chase seven missing Asian, Chinatown

I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this book.
It’s oddly realistically relatable which at times felt ( to me), like a slap-in-the-face at my own stupidity!

It was funny - but.....I had to ask myself “why I thought it was funny”.

It was also dark. But why?

It’s also sad....
....that I ‘do’ understand. I knew why this book was sad!

But.... it’s also hopeful....

“In the world of Black and White, everyone starts out as Generic Asian Man. Everyone who looks like you, anyway. Unless you’re a woman, in which case you start out as Pretty Asian Woman”.
“You all work at Golden Palace, formally Jade Palace, formally Palace of Good Fortune. There’s an aquarium in the front and cloudy tanks of rock crabs and two-pound lobsters crawling over each other in the back. Laminated menus offer the lunch special, which comes with a bowl of fluffy white rice and choice of soup, egg drop or hot and sour”........
“You wear the uniform: white shirt, black pants. Black slipperlike shoes that have no traction whatsoever. Your haircut is not good, to say the least”.

Kung Fu Guy is special - only for the few.
“It takes years of dedication and sacrifice, and after all that only a few have a slim chance of making it. Despite the odds, you all grew up training for this and only this. All the scrawny yellow boys up and down the block dreaming the same dream”.

“Ever since you were a young boy, you’ve dreamt of being Kung Fu Guy”.
“You are still not Kung Fu Guy”.
“You are currently Generic Asian Man Number Three/Delivery Guy”.

Disposable chopsticks, free glossy calendars from East-West Bank, ( good for wrapping fish or fruit), packets of soy sauce and chili paste from the dollar Chinese down the street.

The writing is sharper than any knife I have in this house. The stylist format and metaphors are powerful.

This book does something to us.
It’s so eye-opening I wanted to kick myself.

The title of this book - with it’s first word being “Interior”..... shows up tenfolds more powerful .... as we experience reading the words inside.

“There’s just something about Asians that make reality a little too real,
overcomplicates the clarity, the duality, the clean elegance of BLACK and WHITE, the proven template
and so the decision is made and some overarching conspiracy to exclude Asians but because it’s just easier to keep it how we have it”.

Transformative, original, (with stereotype themes and Hollywood dreams)....
The jokes are funny, but it’s the heartfelt warmth and tenderness for family humanity.... that moved me most.

Charles Yu ..., opened up a can of worms, while letting the cat out of the bag at the same time.
“You’re here, supposedly, in a new land full of opportunity, but somehow have gotten trapped in a pretend version of the old country”!

Ridiculously outstanding originality....with plenty of enjoyable laughs balanced with insightful seriousness.

I actually see hope and possibilities for the future...that is, if we can first survive this pandemic.

Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Blaine.
728 reviews579 followers
September 12, 2022
The question is: Who gets to be an American? What does an American look like? We’re trapped as guest stars in a small ghetto on a very special episode. Minor characters locked into a story that doesn’t quite know what to do with us. After two centuries here, why are we still not Americans? Why do we keep falling out of the story?
On one level, Interior Chinatown is the story of Willis Wu, a background actor on the show Black and White, a hilariously bad rip-off of Law and Order:
SHE’S the most accomplished young detective in the history of the department. HE’S a third-generation cop who left Wall Street to honor his father's legacy. TOGETHER they head the Impossible Crimes Unit, tasked with cracking the most unsolvable cases. When all others have failed, the ICU is the last hope for justice. When all others have failed, you call: BLACK AND WHITE. This is their story.
For now, Willis is Generic Asian Man, on the show and in his actual life. But if he plays his cards right, and gets lucky, he might climb the ladder all the way to the top, to the best role he can envision for himself: Kung Fu Guy.

Willis’s story of that pursuit is very funny. He works and lives in something of a meta-world, where the actors can talk to each other as themselves during scenes, and where there are extensive rules about how long you have to sit out when your character dies before going back to work. On this level, the book reminded me of one of my favorite books, Redshirts.

But there’s a second, larger, more important story being told here—subtly at first and then not so subtly—that explains why this book won the 2020 National Book Award. That story is about why Willis can only aspire to be Kung Fu Guy. About the stereotyping in the depiction of Asian culture on television and in movies. About the history of discrimination—in law, and later in practice—that has made it more difficult for Asian-Americans to assimilate in America.

This larger story is profound, and its core question—“Why doesn’t this face register as American?”—reminded me of the question repeatedly posed by Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between the World and Me: “How do I live free in this black body?” While this book is far different in tone, it is ultimately grappling with similar questions of race and identity in America. Similar, but importantly not the same, because part of the book’s whole point is that while America hasn’t fully come to terms with the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws, it at least generally understands the scope of the problem. But because the historical mistreatment of Asian-Americans was not-quite-as-horrific as its treatment of African-Americans, America—this land of Black and White (get it?)—has no idea how to even conceptualize, let alone address, the legacy of its ‘second-class oppression’ of Asian-Americans.

Interior Chinatown is a great book. It’s told in a completely original fashion. It is consistently funny, even as the issues discussed get more serious. And it’s thought-provoking on a subject most readers have probably not often considered. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,469 reviews2,296 followers
November 19, 2020
Now Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction 2020
You have to applaud Yu for crafting a unique narrative set-up: His novel merges the storyline of a TV crime procedural with the life of a young man who by his surroundings is only perceived as the "Generic Asian Man" - he is an actor trying to get a role beyond that of a clichéd Asian person, but he is also forced into the role of "Generic Asian Man" in real life. The whole effect is surreal and brilliantly conveying the strange loops in which a person who is reduced to a stereotype is trapped - certainly, the whole TV/actor part of the book can also be read as strictly metaphorical. Yu cleverly plays out his ideas by writing parts of the book in the form of a movie script, and the whole novel is typed in Courier (the font used in scripts).

The protagonist, Willis Wu, is perpetually living in an "Interior Chinatown", a prison of perceptions in which he is trapped - and he is not even Chinese, he is, like the author, of Taiwanese descent (the point of course being that all of Asia is frequently seen as monolithic). While Wu works hard and has the ambition to make something of himself, his range of paragons is limited by what Western society allows him to be, and breaking free of his role of "Generic Asian Man" to become "Kung Fu Guy" only means to conform to another stereotype - what is he to do to break the mold in an averse environment? How can he find himself, find happiness?

Apart from giving us Wu's perspective in interior monologue, Yu reflects contemporary American society and its cultural projections by inventig storylines for the police procedural "Black and White", featuring a clichéd woman and a clichéd black man who play the detectives - you get the idea: One is black and one is white, but the series also paints reality in black and white. Where is the Asian representation, what is Wu's role? And how do minorities, employed to project diversity, act towards each other? Yu's narration breaks down the barrier between reality and the fictional series within the novel, and everyone is forced to act constantly, cast in a movie they never volunteered to be in.

Now all of this is brilliantly thought out and highly inventive, but as the storyline is sparse and many parts are highly descriptive, clearly stating narrative puposes and sometimes even bordering on essay writing, the basic idea did not really carry over the whole distance (although the book only has 288 pages). While the repetitiveness is part of the whole point (see: strange loops), it certainly does not help the pacing of the text. But to be fair, this criticism also touches upon the field of personal taste, and I'm sure that many other readers won't mind the points I just addressed.

All in all, Charles Yu wrote a daring, innovative, intelligent book with an important message, and while I wasn't fully immersed in the text, this novel is certainly worth checking out.
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews2,840 followers
May 18, 2021
Setting: Interior Chinatown

Character #1: Generic Asian Man

Time: Present Day (sadly)

What a clever, clever book this is! Charles Yu’s award-winning 2020 novel is a lean, mean, satire machine, packing a punch (or karate chop, as he’d probably write with a wink) in a mere 288 pages. It’s written in the form of a TV screenplay, which creates a very meta rumination on life imitating art imitating life.

The protagonist, Willis Wu, is an extra for a crime procedural called “Black & White” (think “Law & Order”), living his life on and off the screen as Background Oriental Male. If he dares to dream, he hopes to one day work his way up to Delivery Guy, then maybe, just maybe, Kung Fu Guy. But only if he remembers to do the accent.

While the screenplay structure and in-your-face stereotypes may not work for some, the techniques are certainly thought-provoking. All the world’s a stage as they say, and we are merely players. Interior Chinatown puts the typecasting of those in the AAPI community in the spotlight and asks its audience to see Asian Americans as people rather than props. I hope many readers will decide to tune in to this message.

Blog: https://www.confettibookshelf.com/
IG: @confettibookshelf
Profile Image for Charlie Anders.
Author 143 books3,670 followers
September 2, 2019
Wow, I love this book so much. Most books are lucky to be either clever or deep, but Interior Chinatown is both, and makes it look easy. Charles Yu has so much to say about the formulas that make up pop-culture storytelling, and the ways those formulas intersect with stereotypes.

Willis Wu is a bit player on a procedural cop show called Black and White (about a black cop and a white cop), and Willis aspires to rise to better roles, like Ethnic Recurring or even the most prized role, Kung-Fu Guy. And somehow, the roles Willis plays are also kind of his life, and he's stuck in a Chinatown SRO building with a bunch of other Asian bit players who are trying to fit in with what mainstream culture expects of them.

This book is so sarcastic and sardonic and disturbing, but also hilarious and moving. I read it really really fast, in one or two sittings, and this is the kind of book I know that I'll re-read and process and refer to over and over again. Interior Chinatown is essential reading for anyone who's obsessed with pop culture, identity, and all the ways that we're all playing roles, all the time.
Profile Image for Julie .
3,998 reviews58.9k followers
January 9, 2022
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu is a 2020 Pantheon Books publication.

I had forgotten the premise of this book as I didn’t get around to reading it when it was first published, but for some reason, I thought it was a memoir.

When I started reading it, though, I thought I had better go back and study the synopsis, because I was extremely confused. Once I realized the book was satirical and written as though it was a script or screenplay, it started to make a lot more sense.

While satire can be hard to pull off, Charles Yu nailed it perfectly. I have always believed that satire can be a great teaching tool. Approaching a topic in a comedic way, a ‘making fun of’, format can hold a mirror up to people, and can be blunt, cutting right to the heart of the matter, pulling no punches, but it is presented in a way that is easier to digest, and has a greater impact.

I think this book will make readers think and gives them insights they never considered until they took a virtual walk in someone else’s shoes for a while.

This book is a searing, scathing portrait of how Asians are depicted on the big and small screens in Hollywood. The Law & Order parody was written with an insider's flair. It was very funny- but also true and thought-provoking.

Yet, this book is so much more than the satirical humor. It’s history, it’s a very real struggle, an internal identity debate-which ultimately leads to a monumental realization and a triumph.

The format is creative- keeping everything with the context of a screenplay- and I do mean everything- on script and off. Willis/ Generic Asian Guy takes a poignant journey together. The last portion of the book- 'The Missing Asian Guy'- was beyond clever and SO good!

I thought this was a brilliant story. It was smart, funny, touching, and has an imaginative presentation and execution… and just maybe my first impression going in- that this was a memoir- might not be too far off the mark, after all.

Overall, I was very impressed with this novel. My reviews, as I often explain, are just ‘thinking out loud’ ramblings. They are merely my impressions and thoughts- my own personal experience with a book- so I rarely blatantly advise people to avoid or read/buy a book- but today I’m going to press the ‘highly recommended’ button!! A must read!!

5 stars
Profile Image for Doug.
1,932 reviews667 followers
February 2, 2023
2.5, rounded down.

I really hesitate to say anything at all about this, since I am sure there will be people screaming that my disenchantment is strictly due to 'White male privilege', but honestly, this novel will only be revelatory to someone who DIDN'T already realize that there is huge prejudice against Asians in not only Hollywood, but in general in the USA. It is really just one long, apparently autobiographical (and somewhat whiny), screed about lack of opportunities and stereotypical film roles forced on Asian American actors, and as someone who worked in Hollywood for many years (working to create and ensure roles and jobs for People with Disabilities in film, theatre and TV, who - trust me - have it WAYYYYY worse than Asians) ... none of this came as a surprise.

Even the 'innovative' format of presenting most of it in the guise of a screenplay did not really impress me, since half of what I read are play/film scripts, so it just seemed pro forma to me. It's not horrible, and was intermittently entertaining and humourous, but the writing itself never elevates from the pedestrian. I read it in less than a day, and it moved quickly, since the format means it is really only about the length of a 100-125 page novel presented in more traditional terms.

Compounding the problem is that protagonist Willis Wu remains a bit of a cipher - and what we DO know about him is made up of fairly stereotypical 'Asian attributes': he is ambitious, studious, respectful to his elders and family, preoccupied with his martial arts (though we are only TOLD that, and never shown it). Worse, his relationship with his to-be wife Kitty (aka Sexy Young Asian Female #1) is based almost solely on his appreciation of her looks. In effect, Wu actually IS Generic Asian Guy #3!

From all the hoopla, hype and acclaim, I was just expecting much, MUCH more. I think all the awards attention is really just a valiant attempt to diversify the nominees, rather than any inherent value. PS IMHO, Shuggie got ROBBED of the NBA in favor of this mediocrity - glad the Bookers got it right ... for ONCE!
Profile Image for emma.
1,821 reviews45.4k followers
June 8, 2021
There are aliens walking among us.

There are people who look like us, sound like us, walk like us, presumably appreciate the cinematic stylings of America's Sweetheart Jennifer Garner like us...

But their brains are nothing like ours.

Their brains work entirely differently, synthesizing the same data and experiences us lowly humans have into completely creative and unique worldviews that lead to masterpiece-level works of art. Like, I am hearing that that perpetually present 24/7 crowd in front of the Mona Lisa has dispersed.

Because these aliens, in this totally valid and not at all insane-sounding hypothesis, create books like this one.

This is one of a kind crazy brilliant and you should just read it so I can shut up.

Bottom line: Read this book. In exchange I promise I won't write reviews when I'm fresh out of therapy anymore.



review to come / 4 stars but like 4.25?

tbr review

everyone from my favorite bookstore to people in my comments to real-life acquaintances has recommended this one.

so if i don't like it i might combust.


taking lily's idea and reading only books by asian authors this month!

book 1: the incendiaries
book 2: last night at the telegraph club
book 3: dear girls
book 4: sigh, gone
book 5: frankly in love
book 6: emergency contact
book 7: your house will pay
book 8: convenience store woman
book 9: on earth we're briefly gorgeous
book 10: we are not free
book 11: searching for sylvie lee
book 12: the displaced
book 13: schoolgirl
book 14: sweet bean paste
book 15: little fires everywhere
book 16: trust exercise
book 17: front desk
book 18: the bride test
book 19: interior chinatown
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,719 followers
March 12, 2020
This work is marketed as a novel, laid out as a screenplay, and requires the concentration of poetry.

On its surface the work (I hesitate to call it a novel) seems to be a critique of typecasting in the entertainment industry, but in reality that’s just the envelope for a far deeper exploration of identity, because the work demonstrates through this unique format the way its characters, and through extension every one of us, is a prisoner of identities imposed on us by others. When the protagonist-narrator looks at his father and sees for the first time how age and hard luck have diminished him, the author spoke to every grown child confronting that moment when the parent becomes the one in need of being lovingly cared for.

There are many such moments of intense illumination where two human beings see one another clearly in this story. I think it’s a resounding success. My 3 stars in this case has to do with how much work the author demanded of me to reach these meanings. I didn’t always have the stamina. I need more handholding maybe to fully engage with a work of fiction. My rating is likely to go up as I reflect on Yu’s achievement here, or it may work better for me as an audiobook. The blankness of some of the pages and the courier type began to wear on me eventually.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,120 reviews1,624 followers
December 7, 2022

Fenomeno del kung-fu.

Il compito dell’Imperatore era presentare questi vassoietti di plastica pieni di prelibatezze fumanti a una famiglia di biondi da qualche parte nel Midwest, e poi fare un inchino, mentre fuori dall’inquadratura, nell’ombra, risuonava un gong (e ancora più al di là dell’inquadratura, nelle nebbie della storia, si poteva sentire il pianto collettivo di una civiltà che risaliva a cinquemila anni fa).

Con notevole leggerezza e ironia Charles Yu racconta una storia di emigrazione che è tante storie di emigrazione (spero non tutte).
Regalando divertimento e sorriso, narra l’integrazione mai completa dei cinesi nel paese a stelle-e-strisce, che forse, o probabilmente, non si realizzerebbe mai neppure in altri paesi: ma in US sono stati tra i primi ad arrivare, nel 1815, ben prima degli italiani, tanto per dire.
I sogni alla partenza, la speranza, la disillusione, l’essere e rimanere marginale. Un muso-giallo, occhi-a-mandorla, inseguito ovunque e per tutta la vita dal perenne suono di un gong, che si sa, fa tanto Cina.

Charles Yu immerge il tutto in un ambiente che conosce bene, essendo sceneggiatore (l’esempio più notevole credo sia la serie Westworld) oltre che romanziere.
E quindi i suoi cinesi agiscono nello sfondo di una di quelle serie tivvu di serie B, ripetitive e sempre identiche, tendente alla soap, dove una poliziotta bianca e un poliziotto nero, entrambi promossi detective, sono le star del programma.
E quindi, perfino nero è meglio di giallo. Per gli occhi-a-mandorla si tratta di seconda classe anche quando si parla di razzismo e non-inclusione ed emarginazione e in-tolleranza…
Perché i gialli, i cinesi, rimangono di sfondo, sono intercambiabili, generici, comparse a cui chiedere cambi di abito e ruoli diversi, ma senza mai portarli in prima fila sotto le luci destinate ai protagonisti. Tanto si assomigliano tutti, sono tutti uguali, uno vale l’altro.
Sorte comune a chiunque provenga dal continente asiatico. Almeno a quelli che arrivano dal nord del subcontinente indiano: cinesi, coreani, vietnamiti, cambogiani, tailandesi… Asiatici non meglio identificati.

L’immersione è così completa che molte pagine del romanzo si presentano come una sceneggiatura, come il copione di quella serie televisiva di serie B – identica a dozzine d’altre, così come sono tutti uguali i musi-gialli da ovunque provengano, Cina o Corea o Vietnam o…
Quindi, intestazioni di scene, con l’indicazione di giorno o notte, interno o esterno. La serie è talmente mediocre che anche gli esterni sembrano interni, situazioni che si ripetono: l’importante è che le due star rimangano protagoniste, sexy quanto occorre, e che le comparse rimangano di sfondo, anonime e interscambiabili.

”Grosso guaio a Chinatown – Big Trouble in Little China” regia di John Carpenter (1986).

Charles Yu mi ha fatto ricordare quelle pagine fantastiche di Il simpatizzante nelle quali Viet Thanh Nguyen racconta la sua esperienza in un’isola filippina sul set di un film americano diretto da un grande regista matto che raccontava la guerra del Vietnam. Senza fare nomi, era chiaro che si parlava del celebre Apocalypse Now. Tutte le comparse e le figurazioni speciali chiamate a interpretare piccoli ruoli di vietnamiti venivano dalla Cambogia, dalla Cina, dalla Tailandia, dalle stesse Filippine, tranne che dal Vietnam.
E pur non raggiungendo quella vetta, mi ha fatto anche pensare ai romanzi di Manuel Puig che intrecciavano e mischiavano alla sua narrazione dialoghi di film e radiodrammi.
Viva questo tizio asiatico molto ben identificato.

Profile Image for Bkwmlee.
371 reviews241 followers
February 4, 2020
This was definitely a “different” reading experience for me, one that was filled with playful jabs at Hollywood and the stereotypes that are so prevalently applied to Asians in modern society. Written in the form of a TV show script (complete with Courier font and everything!), the story revolves around a protagonist named Willis Wu – who, after playing various minor and often non-speaking roles such as Silent Henchman and Dead Asian Guy, has finally worked his way up to the role of Generic Asian Man in a TV show starring Black and White (a black male cop and white female cop, respectively). Though Willis eventually makes his way up to Very Special Guest Star -- the pinnacle of success for most Asians in the Chinatown SRO where he lives – Willis aims to follow in the footsteps of Older Brother before him and attain the highest level role that all Asian males aspire to: the role of Kung Fu Guy. As he continually climbs the ladder in the hopes of eventually finding his place in the spotlight, Willis makes many surprising (and not so surprising) discoveries along the way, both about his family as well as the Chinatown he grew up in. Throughout this journey, as Willis hops from one role to another, he begins to realize that the roles he is resigned to playing are not necessary aligned with the roles he “wants” to play. The question then becomes whether Willis will be able to break out of the Generic Asian Man role he seems “destined” to play and instead follow his own path, even if it completely upends the reality he has believed his entire life.

It’s rare for me to come across a book quite like this one – a book that is funny, smart, innovative, daring, playful, yet at the same time, also deep and thought-provoking. I love how the author Charles Yu was able to take his personal experiences as an Asian male in American society and transform it into a social commentary of sorts, satirically poking fun at various cultural stereotypes, but in a way that is good-natured and respectful. A book like this one only works if it is written by someone who knows the subject matter intimately, and even then, it can be risky due to how differently each person experiences the world around them. For me, growing up as an Asian-American in a neighborhood where there weren’t many people who looked like me, I could wholeheartedly relate to a lot of what the story’s main characters – especially Willis – went through. Charles Yu was also spot-on where most of the cultural stereotypes were concerned – I found myself nodding my head in agreement throughout much of the story (and also laughing hysterically in the process).

This is one of those books that is very difficult to review because each person’s experience reading and reacting to it will be different depending on the place in society you’re from. I personally found this one clever, brilliant, and absolutely resonant on so many levels, but of course others who read this may not feel the same way. I would still recommend this book though…and who knows, I might even check out this author’s backlist at some point!

Received ARC from Pantheon Books (Random House) via Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,481 reviews29.4k followers
February 22, 2021
4.5 stars, rounded up.

Charles Yu's National Book Award-winning Interior Chinatown is funny, sharply satirical, thought-provoking, and uniquely told.

Willis Wu doesn’t feel like his life makes much of an impact: he tends to think of himself as “Generic Asian Man.” As an actor, he has played roles as diverse as Disgraced Son, Delivery Guy, Silent Henchman, and Guy Who Runs In and Gets Kicked in the Face. But he dreams of reaching what he sees the pinnacle of success for Asian actors—becoming Kung Fu Guy.

He and his parents live a fairly unremarkable existence in small one-room apartments in Chinatown. Their building is above the Golden Palace restaurant, the hub of the community, where a police procedural called Black and White is in constant production. Willis and his parents and most of the community tend to drift in and out of the series, playing interchangeable parts and hoping their big break might someday come.

As Willis’ star appears to be rising, his consciousness about his role in the world grows. His family history is revealed and illustrates the challenges that Asians have faced since immigrating to America and other places in the world. Suddenly he begins to wonder if what he has dreamed of for so long—becoming Kung Fu Guy—is what he really wants. Is there more?

This is a fascinating, slightly trippy book at times. It’s really funny, as it skewers pop culture and the entertainment world’s treatment of Asians, but it’s also tremendously insightful and sensitive.

At times the book is written as a screenplay, at other times it's more narrative in structure. I’ll admit that there were parts I wasn’t sure were actually happening or if they were in Willis’ mind. But I couldn’t put Interior Chinatown down, and I can totally understand why it won the National Book Award.

Truly a book I’ll remember.

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2020 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2021/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2020.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the last decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,037 followers
November 26, 2020
I know this just won the National Book Award and I finally read it because that included it on the Tournament of Books long list, but I really did not enjoy reading this book. The entire structure and setup is satire? allegory? and the characters aren't real in the sense that characters are, they stand in to play a didactic role about how Asians, particularly the Chinese most of the time but also all Asians, are seen in America. As this was not news to me, I did not particularly enjoy the four hour audiobook lecture about it.

I have liked other books by Charles Yu but experimental fiction will always carry the risk of people liking it or not. I mean, I feel pressured to give it three stars because I like him otherwise and it's winning awards and other people find it very clever but cleverness is not enough to sustain a novel for me and it will never be. I'm a substance over style person.

One thing I noticed in listening to the audiobook is how much the rhythm of his writing feels like George Saunders. I challenge anyone who cares to go back and listen to Tenth of December as read by the author and see if you can hear what I mean. The audiobook narrator of this does not have George's accent, so that's not it, it's something about how the words and sentences fall. (George is also someone who I prefer when he isn't experimenting, funny....)

I listened to this in the Random House Audio Volumes app, where they have given me access to most of their new audiobook titles. I chose to listen since I was interested in this book due to its placement in the ToB, but honestly would not have been drawn to reading it otherwise, and only selected it because it is rather short and could accompany me while working on Thanksgiving prep. Therefore I'm not sure I'd exactly call it a review copy except to say that if they hadn't provided it I would have purchased it just the same, and then ended up even more disappointed that I'd spent an Audible credit on a book that was short yet not enjoyed. It came out way way back in January 2020, when the world felt very different, and I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more at that point in time. But even so, that was around when there were all these great Asian-American forward movies and tv shows coming out (at long last) so is this historical fiction?
Profile Image for Rod Brown.
5,114 reviews171 followers
March 22, 2020
This meta, metaphorical, and satirical gimmick of a book bored me with its heavy-handed points about the Chinese American experience, valid as they are. A mash-up of a novel and a screenplay, it reads quickly enough, but still feels like the ultimate overlong Saturday Night Live sketch. I never connected with the surface humor or underlying drama, leaving me only with a "I see what he's doing there" feeling as it built toward its big and deliberately cheesy courtroom finale.
Profile Image for David.
650 reviews301 followers
May 27, 2020
It's a bit of metafiction. Willis Wu dreams of becoming Kung Fu Guy, to transcend a life lived on the margins as disgraced son, striving immigrant, delivery guy or generic Asian man. He's living in the world of the cop drama Black and White, more specifically within the walls of the Golden Palace.

Willis is frustrated. He, along with his parents, live a state of perpetually having just arrived, never really arriving. All their striving, all of his hope, and still he can't escape being trapped by his most salient features, to not be seen as anything more than Asian. Guy.

But he's just playing their game by their rules. Is there anything more for him than this trajectory to Kung Fu guy?

Out in the world we're seeing Asian romantic leads, a successful Asian rom-com, Academy award nods, an imminent Asian Marvel hero. It's a far cry from Mickey Rooney in yellow-face and maybe that's progress. But that's just as narrow a world as Interior Chinatown. We're still inhabiting a world that is seeing a sharp uptick in anti-Asian sentiment and sly asides about the Chinese virus and bat-eating Asians. We're still trapped in the world of Black and White.

I get the intent and I think this would make an incredible show or miniseries. It's just the right kind of TV clever - and works within the medium of what has done more to shape American ideas of Asians. There's a lot of visual cues that would be instantly recognizable and would play beautifully onscreen. On the page, I still need some literary fireworks to carry it off.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,476 followers
May 16, 2021
I found this to be a very entertaining piece of metafiction about what it is like being Chinese in America. It is the only book I read from the 2020 Pulitzer hopefuls list that was written entirely in the second person, a technique that tries to draw us more into the life of Willis Wu. The backdrop of generic pronouns and the generic cop show provide funny, but witty reflections on anti-chinese racism.

I loved this quote: because by the time he gets to "West Virginia, mountain mama," you're going to be singing along, and by the time he's done, you might understand why a seventy-seven-year-old guy from a tiny island in the Taiwan Strait who's been in a foreign country for two-thirds of his life can nail a song, note perfect, about wanting to go home."
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,417 reviews534 followers
December 14, 2020
[4.5] Playful and scathing, Interior Chinatown spun me around, inviting me to view Willis Wu's reality through a fresh lens. I loved this book and Yu's original and tender approach to his subject. The audiobook is perfectly read by Joel de la Fuente.
Profile Image for Theresa Alan.
Author 10 books997 followers
April 7, 2020
I found myself chuckling many times during this short novel about an Asian-American man playing small parts on a TV show. He has to affect an accent because that’s how the directors see him—not as someone who was born in America but as Generic Asian Man. Even though this book is amusing, it’s because Yu is poking fun at racism and stereotypes, so it has that funny/heart breaking dynamic.

The novel is written in an unusual style that uses the techniques of screenplay/teleplay writing to tell the story of a guy who desperately wants to be Kung Fu Guy and always feels that he is on the edge of making that breakthrough. His focus on that goal allows other parts of his life languish.

This is creative and I learned some stuff about the history of folks of Asian descent here in America.

Profile Image for Monica.
582 reviews611 followers
August 9, 2021
This one seems to have lukewarm reviews but to me it was absolutely brilliant!! rtc

5 Stars

Read on kindle
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,308 reviews660 followers
December 15, 2020
Winner of the 2020 National Book Award, “Interior Chinatown” is one of the most creative novels I’ve read. Author Charles Yu uses a screenplay format to create a story about the perplexities of being Asian, forcing the reader to see everyday racism towards Chinese Americans.

Using the screenplay format took a few pages for me to get into the rhythm of the story, but once I did, I was simultaneously entertained and enlightened. There were many “scenes” that I needed to reread to garner the full impact of what Yu wrote. His protagonist, Willis Wu seems to be hapless in life. He perceives his life cast as “Generic Asian Man” and he dreams of being “Kung Fu Guy.” Willis sees a hierarchy of rolls he can play in his life. As the reader is being amused with Willis’s ideas, Yu artfully writes silly “scenes” that move into substantial provocative themes. What begins as silly, ends with thought-provoking ideas.

Without pontificating, Yu provides the horrendous history of how America has treated Chinese Americans. Ever wondered how Chinatown came into being in San Francisco? I’m very sad to have learned how. Yu also confronts the reader to investigate how we view and identify Chinese aka Asians. And, when you think “American” person, what do you visualize? Do you ever visualize a person of Chinese ancestry?

What is amazing about this novel isn’t only the screenplay format, it’s that it motivates the reader to evaluate previous opinions, ideas, thoughts and beliefs about racism. It’s funny and devastating at the same time. Charles Yu has masterfully found a way to communicate very heavy and intense concepts in a subtle way. Yu is very deserving of this award.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,299 reviews119 followers
September 29, 2020
National Book Award Fiction Longlist 2020. Brilliant. Highly inventive. Funny and playful one minute; deep and thought-provoking the next. Yu has written a teleplay about Chinatown which bridges the barrier between reality and the fictional TV series within the novel. The Golden Palace restaurant is the setting for the cop show “Black and White”. Willis Wu has a small part in the show—indeed, his role is limited by his being Asian American. He can be Background Oriental Male, Dead Asian Man, Generic Asian Man Number Three, Disgraced Son, or Striving Immigrant. But Wu hopes to one day be Kung Fu Guy. What is clear is that Wu is trapped in a stereotype, a role that is a prison of perceptions, just like in his real life.

Yu includes a listing of the anti-immigrant legislation prohibiting Asian Americans from owning land, the severe restrictions on Asians immigrating to the United States, and more. It reminds the reader that Asian Americans have been restricted to certain roles for nearly two hundred years.

Yu’s creative novel reminds one of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and undoubtedly flows from his work writing for TV shows like “Westworld”. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Kasa Cotugno.
2,337 reviews441 followers
November 20, 2020
Not only was this a fun book to read with its mashup of styles (most notably, shooting script plus narrative), it was also heartfelt and eyeopening in its depiction of a Generic Asian Man who is seeking his identity in a world that doesn't recognize him as an individual. Interior Chinatown presents his quest in a most remarkable and original way.

Ironically, all the characters are so well defined and depicted, I'd recognize any one of them if they walked in the door. Charles Yu's experiences on-set have provided him with a greater knowledge of that milieu than most, and given him insight in how to construct and present his message of living under racism with all its noxious layers, and perceptions, particularly of Asian men, in this, the supposed promised land. Highly recommended for multiple reasons.
Profile Image for Brandice.
821 reviews
July 7, 2021
Willis Wu perceives himself as “Generic Asian Man” not just in his professional role as an extra in a TV series, where he aspires to rise to “Kung Fu Guy” but also seemingly in his personal life. Interior Chinatown explores both roles through a screenplay format.

The book is less than 300 pages, highlighting Hollywood stereotypes, particularly those pertaining to Asian actors. It was different, and I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this dual format initially, especially as I had to confirm more than once which role I was reading about (which easily may have been intentional, blurring the line between personal and professional), but it grew on me. Interior Chinatown offers an original take on seeking answers to questions of identity.
Profile Image for Dawn F.
494 reviews66 followers
October 25, 2020
I got curious reading this after reading a friend’s review. I was leaning towards 4 stars at first but as it progressed the gimmicky style got tiring. There were some fun moments to begin with, but it lost its novelty along the way. There were moments of honest, emotional clarity where you could sense the inherited pain but it were soon drowned out by sitcom-like conversations. There was also a lot of interesting facts that I would have loved to know more of, like all the American immigration laws, but they were lumped together in really short bursts so you almost missed them.

I liked Yu’s writing a lot and would like to see him delve into something in a bit less cartoonish way.
Profile Image for Angie Kim.
Author 2 books9,308 followers
December 26, 2020
Brilliant and devastating. I loved the whole thing--the creative structure and form, the humor, the brutal social commentary, the winks at the readers--but it wasn't until I got to W's monologue scene (in the trial) that I fully realized the complexity of the story. It feels like a literary version of Inception's multiple levels and the way scenes bend and fold upon themselves. Masterful. My brain hurts.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,823 followers
October 18, 2020
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s not an angry 3-star rating; it’s more a reflection of my overall aversion to the style of ironic detachment Charles Yu largely employs here. His writing is sharp and fluid and entertaining, and he is more than a little capable of diving deeply into some beautifully rendered scenes and moments. But the framing device he utilizes here creates too much distance for me, and he leans into it so heavily that the form the message takes overwhelms the message itself.

A novel I read years ago, Typical American by Gish Jen, worked much better for me as an exploration of the complexities of emigrating to this country, assimilating (or not), and the effects of those things on the children of immigrants. These are themes and issues that are so important to explore, and I admire Yu’s willingness to interrogate all aspects of them; I just wish he hadn’t tried so hard to couch it all in something as cleverly constructed as this.
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