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I Hotel

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  445 ratings  ·  98 reviews
A multi-voiced fusion of prose, playwriting, graphic art, and philosophy that spins an epic tale of America’s struggle for civil rights as it played out in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Divided into ten novellas, one for each year, I Hotel begins in 1968, when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, students took to the streets, the Vietnam War raged, and citi ...more
Paperback, 613 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by Coffee House Press
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3.78  · 
Rating details
 ·  445 ratings  ·  98 reviews

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Adam Dalva
May 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An under read, under appreciated 21st century gem, one that's worth going out of your way to track down.

Difficult to explain this book concisely: basically, it's 10 linked novellas centered on the I Hotel in San Francisco that range from 1968-1977 and detail, with excellent historical research, the travails and successes of the region's "yellow power" movement. Each novella takes on a different slice of the Asian immigrant experience in America, and each has some degree of stylistic variety. Th
Lu Hsun gives up medicine. What's the point? He could study all he wanted to make his people healthy in body, but they were sick in their minds, dig. Now this might seem like a jump, but Lu Hsun thinks the answer is literature. So he starts a new life writing.
I know of the 'People's History of the United States' but what about the 'Non-White People's History of the United States'? Something huge and intricately spun and developed on a scale to put Gibbon to shame, something which may already e
Jun 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: usa
Just wow. A huge, sprawling, aimless and yet deadeye story of identity, resistance, success and failure, all that jazz (as in free, as in Rahsaan Roland Kirk's twin saxes blowing different melodies at the same time, as in Miles' electric phase fusing white-boy funk with black panther politics, as in Thomas P), ancient folk tales and pragmatic political actions, Mao vs Reagan, all scattered out over 600 pages, 10 years, the echo of billions and centuries in a few dozen people over 10 years, spoke ...more
Nov 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Very impressive indeed - perhaps a point of reference for the style would be somewhere between Venessa Place and Vollmann's non-fiction.

Second half better than the first, so I would advise keeping going if you are unsure.

Go read the other reviews on here for more of an idea - this book was successful enough not to require anything more from me
Rebecca McNutt
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I Hotel is undoubtedly impressive and full of history, society, nostalgia and excitement, all fit into a short space.
Timothy Hallinan
May 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is the best, most original, most ambitious, funniest, saddest novel I've read so far in 2011, and I can't actually imagine I'm going to read anything much better in the next 8 months.

Yamashita tells the whole civil right story through the Asian-America perpective, centering on a dilapidated and eventually demolished long-stay hotel in San Francisco. The book is a series of linked novellas -- one per year for a decade (1966-1977), each focused on the inhabitants of the hotel or activities th
Dec 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book is a masterpiece.

It's somewhat experimental fiction, and clearly not everyone likes that (see other reviews), but as a whole I have seen nothing that tackles the subject matter and time period with such attention to detail, spirit, and, well, affection. Not nostalgic -- if anything certain segments remind me too much of situations I'm glad I'm not in anymore -- but I Hotel distills the political time and place of SF in the '70s better than anything I have ever read.

This book makes the
Jul 19, 2010 rated it liked it
As a matter of principle, I avoid hotels, in any form, at all costs. But I Hotel, like the ones in Vegas, I just couldn’t seem to resist.

The publishers refer to Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel as “This dazzling, multi-voiced fusion of fiction, playwriting, graphic art, and philosophy [that:] spins an epic tale…”

On other matters of principle, I am always cautious when the word “epic” gets thrown around like blame after an oil spill. But flipping through its pages, I Hotel does appear to have graphi
Jan 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011
I really wanted to like this book, with its fascinating subject matter (Asian American radicals in San Francisco from the 30s through the 70s) and creative structure (reminded me most of Bolano, of things read recently). However, the political didacticism was just too heavy handed -- the mind numbing factionalism and doctrinalism of those years too lovingly recreated, while the energy and excitement was really not. Almost no one emerges from the novel's intricate structure and political detail a ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
The kind of book that has instant appeal ; looks exactly my kind of thing. Unfortunately it never got under my skin. Whether story or prose it just kind of went me by.

On the other hand, this is perhaps the epic of the Asian=American experience. Truly an encyclopedic thing.
Dec 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club, historical, own
First of all, I am not Asian or an Asian American. I wasn't even alive in the 60s or 70s and I have been in San Francisco for a total of 5 days in my whole life. So not exactly the 'target market' for this book. With that caveat, this was a HUGE struggle to finish. I would have put it down a long time ago if it werent for the fact that it was the book of the month for my book club. As it was, it took 3 separate attempts to get past page 24, including 3 times where I fell asleep after reading 5 p ...more
Oct 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing

The International Hotel (I-Hotel) was built a year after the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake in Manilatown, a community of some 20,000 Filipino immigrants on the edge of Chinatown. It was a residential hotel, which mainly housed Filipino and Chinese immigrant bachelors who worked in nearby businesses but couldn't afford homes, along with a smattering of artists and community and political activists that moved there in the 1960s. The I-Hotel sat in the shadow of the Financial District's
Nov 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american
i've been reading this book for a while. according to goodreads since december 11. up until the last novella I was planning on giving it 3 stars. I mean it's a great book and I enjoyed it,but it has it's issues as does everything. BUT the last novella is a really beautifully written who are we. Of the ten sections there are 3 really good sections: the first one, the one about ben and the last one. The other sections vary in their greatness, but none of the book is actually bad.

so the problems:
Jan 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Relentlessly intelligent, both in terms of literary style and substance. Alternating poetry, prose, screenplay and line narrative, I Hotel runs the gamut from hip and light-hearted to horribly sad. Full of truths and insights into an explosively intense and volatile period of recent history - the life of the left in the late '60's and early '70's. The frame is the Asian American experience, particularly in NoCal, most particularly in San Francisco. Readers are treated to compelling historical fi ...more
Breslin White
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This novel has the structure of a play, literally and figuratively.
Easton Smith
May 31, 2018 rated it liked it
The International Hotel sounds like quite the hub of heart and of struggle; a living, changing embodiment of a dozen diasporas squashed together by oppression, history, and a gentrifying city. The hotel is the center of this story, and yet, after six hundred pages, I am left wishing I knew more of its smells, the character of its hallways, the personal traumas of its older inhabitants. I would easily swap a few more of these details for the two hundred-plus pages of this book that are devoted to ...more
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
10 chapters written from different perspectives and styles. I'd say that's virtuosic. I like best the naturalistic and journalistic styles. Even though the book is short, it is also dense. It's like a great Chinese painting, or poem. I think there'd be new discoveries if I read it again.
Elizabeth OH
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an epic for Asian America, a symphony of all that was and could be.
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Set during a turbulent decade spanning the late 60's through the early 70's, I Hotel is the expansive story of the Yellow Power Movement, set primarily around the International Hotel, the home of aging Asian migrant workers and the headquarters for many of the movement's activities, told over 10 novellas or "hotels."

It's funny. I read this for an independent study and spent much of my month dedicated to it bemoaning its high difficulty level, its constant changing up of prose style and narrativ
Dec 13, 2010 marked it as to-read
from Rain Taxi via Powell's:

Huge, messy, and frantically fun, I Hotel offers a very believable panorama of life at this time. It's apparent that Yamashita did an incredible amount of research for the book. The portraits of these early generation Asian Americans, some of whom were or knew people who had been imprisoned in internment camps, denied a humane wage, got fucked with by the cops and the government, fought losing battles for citizenship, and lived in deplorable conditions, are quite movi
Apr 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This historical novel consists of ten linked novellas about radical political figures and artists involved in the Asian American movement in San Francisco. That makes it sound much drier and more technical than it is. I was drawn in and absorbed by the stories, some of which were familiar and some very unfamiliar. I recognized all the references to Maxine Hong Kingston and to some of the labor leaders, but other things were completely outside the narrative I had learned about US history. I reall ...more
Dec 31, 2013 marked it as to-read
Recommended to John by: Jack Waters

( @Jack Waters: You indirectly 'recommended' this to me when I saw a pic [which you recently posted on FB] of yourself and the author of this book, Karen Tei Yamashita. My curiosity was piqued, I went online, read a little bit about this book, I Hotel, and I'm really looking forward to picking up a copy now and getting into this collection. :) Thank you! )
Jan 23, 2016 marked it as abandoned
I hate leaving books but I don't want to torture myself. This is one of those novels whose "experimental" (artificial) structure seems like it was created for academic purposes. I would recommend this for people who study creative writing, people who are extremely interested in the mid-20th century, or people who really like modern art. I am none of these so I am returning it to the library.
Feb 08, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Oh my! Scope, scale, complexity. Our book club waved white flag and surrendered. Some are now using it for building biceps. Likely, though, the book is genius.
Stephanie Gustafson
Oct 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book is packed with history and politics. It's best to read it slowly and to meditate on all the information that is given by multiple narrators. I would read it again!
Jenny Yates
Sep 03, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a great book, but I don’t entirely recommend it. The structure is weird, and the really interesting bits are interspersed with other bits that are pretty much unreadable. If you can manage to get about halfway through without giving up, you find more and more brilliant passages, whole chapters that are compelling and beautifully written, and less and less of the incomprehensible.

And then right at the end, the author explains what the whole book is about. Okay! Now I understand! Actually
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Karen Tei Yamashita is an amazing storyteller. She takes you back to the late Sixties and early Seventies, when San Francisco was apparently teeming with Asian radicals. Chinatown and Manilatown and Japantown were where these often violent Maoists and anarchists would meet and hide and conspire; the cooks and the garment workers and hotel workers were all getting organized by the students, while the older folks all remembered (or tried to forget) the stories of their immigration, military servic ...more
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A magnificent book ... a history of San Francisco and California and the "Yellow Power" movement in the 60s and 70s, entwined with all the social movements of the times (occupying Alcatraz; leading farm strikes in the Salinas Valley; working with the Black Panthers for racial justice) and told in small stories and character sketches. The story revolves around the politics and activism of Asian American communities trying to save the International Hotel, a residential hotel in Chinatown. It's exh ...more
Some big books have a certain energy to them, carrying the reader along, even when they might be intimidated, fatigued, or unsure about the subject matter. City on Fire comes to mind. Although it is a totally different kind of book, I Hotel has this quality. It's almost always innovative, often very well written, especially the first section, at times sophomoric, but always a fun read.
That said, there are parts that really needed an editor. I know it's difficult to work with a book that's this e
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Born January 8, 1951 in Oakland, California, Karen Tei Yamashita is a Japanese American writer and Associate Professor of Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, where she teaches creative writing and Asian American literature. Her works, several of which contain elements of magic realism, include novels I Hotel (2010), Circle K Cycles (2001), Tropic of Orange (1997), Brazil-Maru (1992 ...more
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“Everyone’s got a version of the same story, or maybe there’s no such thing as the same story; it’s a different story every time.” 6 likes
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