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Interior Chinatown

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  19,465 ratings  ·  3,189 reviews
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
Hardcover, 273 pages
Published January 28th 2020 by Pantheon Books
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Cee I feel like this may actually serve the story? It's told somewhat from the limited perspective of an American-born immigrant kid who in part struggles…moreI feel like this may actually serve the story? It's told somewhat from the limited perspective of an American-born immigrant kid who in part struggles with speaking his parents' language. As a non-Chinese speaker, I of course couldn't tell the difference while listening to the audio book. But I am an American-born immigrant kid who also has a lot of complicated feelings around feeling disconnected and not speaking my parents' language "well." So I can appreciate the fact that there are pronunciation flubs, even if they take you out of the story. Maybe that's the point?(less)

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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  19,465 ratings  ·  3,189 reviews

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Nov 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Wildly innovative; a perfect marriage of form and function.
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio, overdrive
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 ...more
Elyse  Walters
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
*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
Charlie Jane Anders
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: usa, 2020-read, china
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 whic
Feb 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021, e-book
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 acc
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 Asia ...more
lark benobi
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 protagonis
Oct 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing

Per usual you walked in with a list. But the list this time around wasn’t comprised of suggestions from friends and/or fellow Goodreaders. Nor was it comprised of the latest must-have books that had come out that particular week. Nope. This list was made up of several works that had flown beneath your radar, if the radar had even picked up on them in the first place.

Awards season has a tendency of doing exactly this, of bringing attention to books otherwise unknown to you, sparkin
Mar 08, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
2.5, rounded up.

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 r
Jenny (Reading Envy)
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 h ...more
Larry H
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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 Ku
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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, Gen ...more
May 26, 2020 rated it liked it
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
Dec 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
[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. ...more
Theresa Alan
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 s
Kasa Cotugno
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-
Michael Finocchiaro
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.
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 i
Dawn C
Oct 23, 2020 rated it liked it
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 la ...more
Eric Anderson
Nov 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I was growing up one of my favourite parts of visiting a big city was going to that city's Chinatown. I don't think I ever necessarily felt I was getting an “authentic” Chinese experience but I enjoyed the food, confectionary and atmosphere. It wasn't until I read the author Madeline Thien's article 'Farewell to the fairy palace: are Chinatowns obsolete?' that I started thinking more complexly about these physical locations and how their “deliberately exoticised” architecture is more for to ...more
Angie Kim
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Rod Brown
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020-real-books
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. ...more
Darryl Suite
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Inventive, creative, humorous, and thought-provoking. That's how you write a novel that stands out from the rest of the pack. Yu found a way to explore themes of racism + discrimination that feels fresh + unique. And highlights a subject that doesn't get discussed as much as it should: the dismantling of Asian stereotypes. Written in a style that is part novel, part screenplay, part vignette. I'm floored by this. Just wow. ...more
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 ...more
Jordan (Jordy’s Book Club)
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
QUICK TAKE: funny, emotional, thought-provoking satire about Willis, a “Generic Asian man” who plays a background extra on the TV procedural Black & White, but dreams of one day being “Kung Fu Guy”, the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. The book is extremely funny and heartfelt and explores racial stereotypes and pop culture through a satirical lens in a clever and extremely unique way. Easily one of my favorite books of the year.
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book is a fever dream, but so worth the ride. Such creative storytelling laced with humor & honesty.
John Banks
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Winner 2020 National Book Award for Fiction.

Yu's Interior Chinatown is bitingly funny with a sharp satirical edge directed at so many of the USA cultural stereotypes, especially Hollywood inspired, of Asian Americans. Written in the form of a television screenplay, the book is about Willis Wu (an Asian American, his parents immigrated from Taiwan) who lives in a SRO (single room only) in Chinatown above the Golden Palace Restaurant. And from here the stereotypes just explode in all directions. W
Claire Reads Books
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
The first half of this book was 5 stars, but it got too heavy-handed for my taste in the back half...probably closer to a 3.5 ⭐️ overall
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Ballerina Book Club: April Ballerina Book Club Pick 2 13 Apr 09, 2021 10:09AM  
Tournament of Books: Interior Chinatown 23 159 Mar 31, 2021 01:51PM  
Play Book Tag: Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu - 3 stars 5 11 Feb 26, 2021 12:04PM  
Burbank Book Club: December pick 9 35 Dec 17, 2020 05:27PM  

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CHARLES YU is the author of four books, including his latest, Interior Chinatown, which is a Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, and 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, Facebo ...more

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