Author: Charles Yu
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: Sometimes funny and thought-provoking, but at times comments on social issues were more clear than the plot.
“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 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 highest aspiration he can imagine for a Chinatown denizen. Or is it?” (source)
I’d heard great things about this novel and was intrigued by the concept, with its promised ‘send-up of Hollywood tropes and Asian stereotypes’ (source). In a few places, I did think the author did a masterful job showing the absurdity of certain stereotypes, with layers of meaning added through Willis’s story and the story in the cop show he acts in. These moments were rare though. In part, this might be due to my lack of familiarity with conversations about the types of discrimination and stereotyping faced by Asian Americans. I’ll definitely be reading some other reviews after finishing my own to see what I might be missing. However, I do think there were some aspects of this book that didn’t work for me for other reasons.
First, there were several conversations where characters discussed issues having to do with race. These sections didn’t say much that I hadn’t heard before, but more importantly, I just don’t like when the social commentary in books becomes this explicit. I’d rather simply be presented with situations that will make me think. Second, a lot of time, the author’s life and his work on the TV show blended together such that it was hard to tell what was ‘real’ and what was ‘fiction’ within the world of the book. Maybe this shouldn’t matter to me, since obviously all of the story is actually fiction, but ambiguity is a pet peeve of mine. Last but not least, we really speed through a number of Willis’s major life events. We see very little of his adult life outside of the show. That made it hard for me to get invested.
Despite these problems, this book was well written and sometimes clever and thought-provoking. I also think it’s fair to say that a lot of my problems with the book were personal preferences that not every reader would share. I think this will probably be worth picking up for a lot of you, so maybe check out some other reviews before you decide.