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Interior Chinatown

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  602 ratings  ·  143 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 in a
Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published January 28th 2020 by Pantheon
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Average rating 4.19  · 
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Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Charlie Anders
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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 ...more
Jan 14, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, china, 2020-read
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 - ...more
Vivek Tejuja
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought the book was exhausting when I first began to read it, till I reached about forty pages and started enjoying it thoroughly. This is somewhat my relationship with the other two books written by Yu as well. The start is rocky, till I make some headway, and before I know it, I am in love with what he has to say about the world he builds, and connects it with the world we live in.

Interior Chinatown is a deeply emotional book about race, identity, pop culture, and what roles we are forced
This is definitely one of those "it's not you, it's me" books. Charles Yu makes some smart points about difficult issues here, and even got a couple of laughs from me along the way, but Interior Chinatown is essentially an allegory. I'm constitutionally allergic to allegory.
Told in the form of a script, this book was original, sarcastic & provocative. It played on the stereotype that "All Asian men look the same" in a vert interesting way.
The fact that the main character was part of a show was confusing at times, but I found this book to be very clever overall. All the "moving" sections were left at the end, though.
Feb 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book makes some great points about racism and how Asian Americans experience it in a different way than other cultural groups. It was also written in an interesting way where some scenes are written as if they are in a script. I did get confused several times where I didn't know if certain scenes were actually happening or if they were just in the main characters head. I think that was the point, but it missed the mark for me. I still enjoyed reading it.
Jordy’s Book Club
QUICK TAKE: funny, emotional, thought-provoking satire about an Asian American background actor who dreams of making it big. Explores stereotypes and diversity through a unique lens. Must-read and probably one of the best of the year.
Feb 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think this is a book I'll be processing and thinking about for a long time. Written by a Westworld writer in screenplay format was enough to get my attention, but the further in I got, the more this book got inside of me. It's set in a TV show, not on a production but the actual show, and it knows it's a show. It's a show but it's real life, and the meta throughout and how that construct is used honestly blew me away. I'm feeling incoherent trying to talk about this. This book is somehow a ...more
Wow. This book is incredible - clever, original, sarcastic, and provocative. Need some time to gather my thoughts but I know I'm going to be recommending this one a lot.
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was such a great read! A very unique approach to the topics of media representation, culture, and cultural stereotypes of Asian Americans both on screen and off. The thin line between reality and fiction was what kept me on my toes, constantly wondering what part of this was Willis' real life and what parts were fictional and scripted. A very well-written and engaging book that I think will be great for any reader.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book
Feb 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, speculative
A clever and powerful framing of Asian-American experiences as literal television roles. I really loved how the author plays with the screenplay-style format, and I was impressed at how compelling many of the characters were within those constraints.
Kat  Hooper
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Will review at
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Charles Yu has produced a rare creature: a novel that is highly literary, playful with form, very funny and - most notably - not difficult. One thing that worked particularly well is the fuzzy boundary between the protagonist's real/screen persona and story as a mechanism for exploring the ambiguous place that Asian-Americans occupy in a country that still thinks of itself as largely black and white. The last 20 pages or so got a bit didactic for my taste, but it's a minor offense given how good ...more
Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-america
In spite of its overt, bordering-on-gimmicky contrivance, Interior Chinatown is one of the most emotional, character-driven "tricky" narratives I've read. However, in a deeply Kung Fu Guy ballsy move, almost every one of the choices Charles Yu makes that gives this heavily-allegorical story its considerable emotional heft, is written specifically *for* Chinese Americans.

I didn't know much about Charles Yu before starting this novel, and assumed he'd flatten out all the "ethnic"/Inscrutable
Lisa Eckstein
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2020
Willis Wu is Generic Asian Man, or sometimes Delivery Guy or Dead Asian Guy. His lifelong dream has been to attain the role of Kung Fu Guy, the highest rank available to an Asian actor. Willis, his aging parents, and all their Chinatown neighbors work at the Golden Palace restaurant, which serves as an interior on the cop show Black and White. In the world of this story, there is no reality beyond the show, or at least Willis can't conceive of any bigger dream than playing a stereotyped other in ...more
Feb 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! This goes directly to the list of books that need to be on one of my college syllabi next academic year. An astounding dynamic of form and content, narrative, political history, and genre mastery.
Jonathan Hawpe
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Imagine that the actual world is like a cheesy TV cop show. And everyone is an actor playing a part. You are Willis Wu, but you're life is mostly being GENERIC ASIAN MAN. Forever confined to the borders of a clichéd Chinatown. Forever defined as a stereotype. Can you live a full life here? Can you break the rules? Break free? Charles Yu's genius satire answers these questions, and lays bare the painful absurdity of pop cultural prejudice through a story as uproariously entertaining as it is ...more
Brett Benner
Feb 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably one of the most ingeniously concieved books about the immigrant experience, Charles Yu, a television writer for such shows at ‘Westworld’ and ‘Legion’ spins the story of Willis Wu, a young actor growing up in Los Angeles who dreams of moving up the ranks from Background Oriental Male to the ultimate pinnacle: Kung Fu Guy. Yu constructs his story with a brilliant combination of prose and script, including such small terrific details like the typewriter typeface the book is written in.
Feb 14, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf, ebooks
DNF at 45%.

Trying to get better about putting books down that aren't working for me. This is definitely a case of it being me and not the book. I'm sure this book is great for a lot of people and I'm sad I'm not one of them because it's a really neat idea.
DNF at 100 pages. Maybe it's just the wrong book at the wrong time but I'm just not engaged.
Linda Bond
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written in the form of a stereotypical screenplay, filled with a range of stereotypical Oriental characters, daily performing in a stereotypical cop show set in a stereotypical Chinese restaurant, Interior Chinatown is a mesmerizing work of genius. Willis Wu is an Asian actor who is slowly moving his way up the ladder of success. He’s moved his way through Background Oriental Male, to Oriental Guy Making a Weird Face, and hopes to make it all the way to Kung Fu Guy if he continues to work hard ...more
DNF. I would have probably liked this book better if it had not been written like a movie script. Thank you to Knopf Books and goodreads giveaways for ARC.
Dec 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fast, witty delight, with a searing examination of Asian representation in American culture. Yu is a genius and I'm pretty sure at this point I'd follow him anywhere.
Elena L.
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
INTERIOR CHINATOWN focuses on Willis Wu, an Asian American man who aspires to be the role of a lifetime- the "Kung-fu guy". Willis Wu is a generic Asian man trying ceaselessly to show his value. In a reality with too many Chinese people, in order to stand out, he must deliver plenty of dedication, sweat and sacrifice hoping that some day someone would find him worthy.

While this book centers around Wu' life - it doesn't limit to this and covers Chinese culture and customs, race, identity crisis,
John Lamb
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes I feel like heavy readers are a little bit like drug addicts. You start like everyone else, reading picture books and then moving onto chapter books. Then in high school you might dabble in some popular fiction. A John Green here. A Michael Crichton thriller there. But then you start getting into the heavy stuff (maybe you start experimenting with Thomas Pynchon) because those popular books just don't have it any more. Then you're just mainlining anything to help keep the demons away ...more
Feb 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2020
I loved this book, even though it’s different from what I usually read, and I couldn’t exactly wrap my head around what was “real” in the story and what was part of the screenplay. I think that’s the beauty of it though. It takes on the issue of Asian stereotypes/racism/immigration through the lens of roles and characters for Asians in television or movies (Kung Fu guy being the pinnacle). This book has a lot of heart and vulnerability and is really creative.

Edited to add: while I’ve learned a
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Solid 4.5.

“Inventive” novel, as noted by others. There were times when I couldn’t tell what was really going on in the novel vs. what was part of the script within the novel...(could just be me, as I say, often).

I got irritated with the “speechifying” in the final courtroom scenes, and actually thought, ‘this is as bad as an episode of Law and Order.’ Oh, wow! Clever indeed.

Within the novel’s intricacies, it takes on the timely topics of the day — immigration, racism, assimilation,
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an extremely creative novel that balances the rigors of racial prejudice with the comedy of an invented detective drama script. The idea to portray a range of identity with the hierarchy of roles in a cast was executed flawlessly, providing a playful structure for the ruminations discussed. Filled with illustrious montages, scripty banter, and a surreal narrative, this book hits you hard in the feelings but brightens it up with perfect stage lighting and execution. I really enjoyed such ...more
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CHARLES YU is the author of three books, including the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which was a New York Times Notable Book and named one of the best books of the year by Time magazine. He received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award, and was nominated for two WGA awards for his work on the HBO series, Westworld. He has also written for shows on FX, AMC and ...more
“This is it. The root of it all. The real history of yellow people in America. Two hundred years of being perpetual foreigners.” 0 likes
“But at the same time, I’m guilty, too. Guilty of playing this role. Letting it define me. Internalizing the role so completely that I’ve lost track of where reality starts and the performance begins. And letting that define how I see other people. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. Fetishizing Black people and their coolness. Romanticizing White women. Wishing I were a White man. Putting myself into this category.” 0 likes
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