I read Interior Chinatown a few months ago having no idea that the author, Charles Yu, was such a well known force in the writing world. The National Book Award is a famous literary award and their longlist for 2020 just came out. The longlist consists of the top books nominated in a category: after this list, some of the books will make it onto a shortlist, in which one book will win the ultimate award. There are 5 categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people’s literature. This year Yu is on the longlist for fiction and is a previous 5 under 35 honoree. He also wrote How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and is a writer for the tv show Westworld.
The book is written in the form of a screenplay. The main character, Willis Wu, is an actor who is just trying to become something more than “Generic Asian Man.” The idea that “Kung Fu Guy” is not the only thing an Asian man can do or play the part of, is an important aspect of the story. The struggle of the main character is rooted in a lot of stereotypes and a lot of the characters have these vulnerable moments that shed light on what it is like to be Asian-American.
It’s not clear if he can dunk (no one’s ever seen him try) but he can definitely grab the rim and that alone is pretty impressive given that he’s five eleven and three-quarters.
Which, for the record, is the perfect height for an Asian dude. Tall enough for women to notice (even in heels! even White women!), tall enough to not get ignored by the bartender, but not so tall to get called Yao Ming and considered some kind of Mongolian freak.
What I really liked about this book was that it was such a quick and entertaining read but still had deep meaning to it. It isn’t one of those types of books where you struggle to get through it because it’s so heavy. It surprisingly brings lightness and humor to the ignorance some people have, while still highlighting it in a way that makes you take note and think.