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Interior Chinatown
Cover of Interior Chinatown
Interior Chinatown
A Novel
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • From the infinitely inventive author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, a deeply personal novel about race, pop...
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • From the infinitely inventive author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, a deeply personal novel about race, pop...
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  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER From the infinitely inventive author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, a deeply personal novel about race, pop culture, immigration, assimilation, and escaping the roles we are forced to play.

    "One of the funniest books of the year.... A delicious, ambitious Hollywood satire." —The Washington Post


    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.
 

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Excerpts-

  • From the book INT. GOLDEN PALACE

    Ever since you were a 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. Your kung fu is B, B-plus on a good day, and Sifu once proclaimed your drunken monkey to be nearly at a level of competence that he could perhaps at some point in the future imagine not being completely embarrassed of you. Which, if you know him, well, that's a pretty big deal.

    To be honest though it can sometimes be hard to tell with Sifu, who is famously inscrutable. If you could only show him what you've become. All you want is for him to make that face, the one that looks like internal distress possibly of a gastrointestinal nature but actually indicates something closer to Deeply Repressed Secret Pride Honorable Father Has for His Young but Promising Son; means Deliciously Bittersweet Pain That Comes from Knowing Honorable Teacher Is No Longer Needed. That's how you see it in your head: he would make that face, smile, you'd smile back. Credits roll and you'd walk off, arm in arm, to the horizon.

    OLD ASIAN MAN

    These days he is mostly Old Asian Man. No longer Sifu, with the pants and the muscles and the look in his eye. All of that is gone now, but when did it happen? Over years and overnight.

    The day you first noticed. You'd shown up a few minutes early for weekly lesson. Maybe that's what threw him off. When he answered the door, it took him a moment to recognize you. Two seconds, or twenty, a frozen eternity—then, as he regained himself, his familiar scowl, barking your name

    WILLIS WU!

    half-exclamation, half-confirmation, as if verifying for both you and himself that he hadn't forgotten. Willis Wu, he said again, well come on, what are you doing, don't just stand there in the doorway like a dum-dum, come in, son, let's get started.

    He was fine for the rest of the day, mostly, but you couldn't stop thinking about the look he gave you, oblivion or terror, and for the first time you noticed the mess his room had become, not unusual for any other man his age living alone, but for Sifu, who taught and valued order and simplicity in all things, to have allowed his dwelling to reach this state of disorganization should have been a warning sign to all. Maybe not the first, but the first one that came to your attention.

    Fatty Choy went around telling everyone that Sifu was on food stamps, saying how gullible can you be ("You idiots think being Wizened Chinaman pays well? Are you crazy? Why do you think he fishes bottles and cans out of the trash?") but no one wanted to believe it. At least in public.

    In private, the thought did occur. Sifu never had the lights on. Said it was to train the senses. He saved everything: 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. He'd patched his old fake leather couch so many times there were cracks on the patches. Which of course he also patched. The Formica two-top he ate on was the first and only kitchen table he'd ever bought, purchased for seven dollars and fifty cents from the salvage bin at the old restaurant supply warehouse down on Jackson and Eighth, that place long gone now (converted to INT. RAVE/GRIMY CLUB SCENE) but the table still there in the kitchen. An artifact of the previous century, it had worn down to a smoothness so comforting and cool it felt soft to the touch, the patterns of use, hundreds, thousands of meals together in the corner of that small, low-ceilinged room, the surface preserving the...

About the Author-

  • CHARLES YU is the author of four books, including Interior Chinatown (the winner of the 2020 National Book Award for fiction), and the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (a New York Times Notable Book and a Time magazine best book of the year). He received the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 Award and was nominated for two Writers Guild of America Awards for his work on the HBO series, Westworld. He has also written for shows on FX, AMC, and HBO. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New YorkerThe New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and Wired, among other publicationsTogether with TaiwaneseAmerican.org, he established the Betty L. Yu and Jin C. Yu Writing Prizes, in honor of his parents.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2019
    The inspired author of How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2010) delivers another inventive drama about an Asian actor who dreams of becoming a star. Like his contemporary Jesse Ball, Yu is a novelist who plays endlessly with style, genre, and nonlinear narratives. Here, the story is delivered in seven distinct "acts" depicting the arc of Willis Wu, a young actor of Taiwanese descent who dreams of graduating from the pigeonhole of "Generic Asian Man" on television to "Kung Fu Guy," a shining star on the silver screen equal to the legendary Bruce Lee. Yu splits his storytelling between Willis' internal monologue, during which he talks to himself about what he's experiencing and how he feels, and the script for the TV show he appears on in a small role, Black and White, a police procedural featuring Sarah Green, an accomplished young detective, and Miles Turner, her African American partner. In spare but moving prose, Willis describes life among Asian Americans living as so-called foreigners, examines the history of bigotry against immigrants in the West for centuries, tells the sweet but sensible story of how his parents met, and relates how his part on the show evolves over time. It can be funny, as Willis explains the vagaries of the actor's life: "When you die, it sucks. The first thing that happens is that you can't work for forty-five days." The book could have ended more straightforwardly but the author couldn't resist an elegant twist, merging Willis' increasingly complicated emotional life with the plot of the show. As it all comes to a close, the author delivers a bittersweet yet affectionate ending for his endearing, unlikely doppelgänger. An acid indictment of Asian stereotypes and a parable for outcasts feeling invisible in this fast-moving world.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from November 1, 2019
    The cover designates that this is a novel in both Chinese and English, but Yu's (Sorry Please Thank You, 2012) fiction defies easy labels. This hybrid conflates history, sociology, and ethnography with the timeless evils of racism, sexism, and elitism in a multigenerational epic that's both rollicking entertainment and scathing commentary. Willis Wu is an (Asian) actor, which means he's easily disposable, utterly indistinguishable. Never mind that he's American-by-birth, he's still expected to be fluent in accented English and do the face of Great Shame on command. He's currently on set at Black and White (which stars a black dude cop and white lady cop ), relegated to playing variations of the generic Asian man. Meanwhile, his parents' careers as mostly old Asian woman and old Asian man remain stuck in a loop of stifling casting. The struggles continue as Willis falls in love, marries, and becomes a father, all the while holding on to that someday dream of finally becoming the Kung Fu guy. Resembling a script, complete with a classic typewriter font, Yu's tale ingeniously draws on real-life Hollywood dead ends for Asian American actors, including, quite possibly, Kelvin Yu, the author's younger brother, . As preposterous as many scenes may seem, their sobering reality will resonate with savvy readers.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    August 1, 2019

    Willis Wu wants to be Kung Fu Guy but is resigned to being Generic Asian Man. At the restaurant where he works, the cop show Black and White is perpetually in production, and Willis's chance at the spotlight gives him a new understanding of the secret history of both Chinatown and his own family. From a National Book Foundation 5 under 35 honoree, who authored the Campbell Memorial Award runner-up How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and writes for Westworld and Here and Now.

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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