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Book Review: Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Charles Yu crafted an ingenious story about the Asian experience in America in his novel Interior Chinatown. The main character, Willis Wu, narrates his experience working on a cop show and dreaming of becoming more than just “Generic Asian Man” — the elusive (and, as we later find out, illusive) title of “Kung Fu Man.” Yu structured the novel as a TV script, which worked so well for his narrative, as it showed how life is so similar to art that it is indistinguishable. The humor and wit do so much in educating the reader; they introduce hard-to-grasp themes such as assimilation, the “model minority” concept and pop culture influence. It starts off light and then gets heavy, these themes being blatantly defined so that we know that each detail is intentional. 

I find that this novel is very timely in this day and age — Asian (-American) and Pacific Islander (AAPI) advocacy is on the rise. Given that it was published in 2020, Yu probably knew what he was doing when he was writing this novel and knew the impact it would have. He writes in a way that is punchy and darkly humorous, which to the wrong person is mildly uncomfortable, but to those with shared experiences, this novel is downright hilarious (if I do say so myself). All the characters are stereotypes of themselves, which is fitting because of the way Asians are often lumped together, their different ethnicities erased for them to fit the part of “Generic Asian.” 

Yu didn’t pull punches when he wrote about the “model minority” myth, using it in a conversation between Willis Wu and Miles Turner, a Black detective staring in the cop show Black and White. Willis and Turner are heated in one scene, and Turner mentions how this is what America wants: to pit Black/African-American against AAPI in a “who’s more oppressed” contest. Spoiler Alert (not really for the novel): the contest is moot since experiences shouldn’t be compared in that way. 

I’m moved after reading this novel, especially when it contextualizes my own experiences as an AAPI individual overwhelmed by the anti-Asian hate in the current news. There is discourse in the advocacy and social justice community as people are comparing the support the AAPI community received following the murder of Asian women in an Asian-American-owned salon in Atlanta to the support the BLM Movement received in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. While yes, I wish that more people would have offered their support just as they did during the BLM Movement for Floyd, I don’t think that anyone should be upset that any effort was put forth. Again, we can’t compare experiences; we can do what we can to educate ourselves and widen our knowledge of diversity to become better allies to those around us. 

Paige Pennebaker

Chapel Hill '21

Paige Pennebaker is an aspiring writer who attends UNC-Chapel Hill as a Senior during the day. She enjoys writing fiction and has been published on shortfictionbreak.com. While fiction is where her heart is, Paige also has a lot to say about the real world and how to get by.
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