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Interior Chinatown
Cover of Interior Chinatown
Interior Chinatown
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
2020 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER
"One of the funniest books of the year ... a delicious, ambitious Hollywood satire." —The Washington Post

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. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but he is always 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. At least that’s what he has been told, time and time again. Except by one person, his mother. Who says to him: Be more.
 
Playful but heartfelt, a send-up of Hollywood tropes and Asian stereotypes, Interior Chinatown is Charles Yu’s most moving, daring, and masterly novel yet.
"Fresh and beautiful ... Interior Chinatown represents yet another stellar destination in the journey of a sui generis author of seemingly limitless skill and ambition.” —The New York Times Book Review
2020 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER
"One of the funniest books of the year ... a delicious, ambitious Hollywood satire." —The Washington Post

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. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but he is always 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. At least that’s what he has been told, time and time again. Except by one person, his mother. Who says to him: Be more.
 
Playful but heartfelt, a send-up of Hollywood tropes and Asian stereotypes, Interior Chinatown is Charles Yu’s most moving, daring, and masterly novel yet.
"Fresh and beautiful ... Interior Chinatown represents yet another stellar destination in the journey of a sui generis author of seemingly limitless skill and ambition.” —The New York Times Book Review
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  • From the cover 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...
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Joel de la Fuente gives a spectacular performance filled with drama, theatrics, and razzle-dazzle that beautifully showcases Charles Yu's satire of Asians in America, told in a funky screenplay format. Willis Wu's life unfolds like a movie in which he is "Generic Asian Man." Each night he returns to his crowded Chinatown highrise hoping that the next day will bring him closer to the role of "Kung Fu Guy." De la Fuente's fluid segues between American and Chinese accents, storytelling, and evocation of the inner screenplay of Wu's mind are lively and authentic sounding. Wu's family history, the struggle for Asians to break out of the social roles in which they have been cast, and glimpses of how they see themselves are revealed with engaging animation. De la Fuente's interpretation of this poignant narrative results in dynamic storytelling. M.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award � AudioFile 2020, Portland, Maine
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Interior Chinatown
Interior Chinatown
A Novel
Charles Yu
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