Monday, January 4, 2021

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, 2020 National Book Award Winner, story of Asian immigrant's "Script" in U.S., the "yellow" in a cop show entitled "Black and White."

INTERIOR CHINATOWN Charles Yu's amazing novel, enacts the life of bit part actor, Willis Wu ,and his (and his family's experiences) within the context of "Black and White," a TV crime show. In this show, as in  the world outside "The Golden Palace" (home and workplace of generations of Chinese immigrants) the "yellow" of Asian Americans is always a stereotypical character, exotic background color, a plot device; never just a regular American of Asian descent. Yet in Willis' world, people are constantly striving for their American dream. Children all get  4.0 and above. Yet no matter how they succeed in school and for how long (generations) they are still treated as outsiders. Many end up back where they grew up, at a "The Golden Palace" restaurant job. 

With great humor, INTERIOR CHINATOWN creates Wu's layered reality.  His family also played the bit parts, his dad even hit the top role, Kung Fu Master. Behind that inscrutable Chinese, was a forgotten academically gifted past. His mother's "pretty hostess" kept the family afloat for years, and, though he wanted to be Kung Fu, she told him he could do better. And he did with his 4.0, yet had to polish his immigrant accent to get work on the show.  

One day he meets a Chinese- American of mixed race,  and on the show there's a chance of Kung Fu Master, though not a role  as a real Chinese person.  What happens to Willis' sense of self, when the script and his circumstances change for alternatives he'd never considered? Can he assimilate  a character he's never played, as an Asian and a man? 

I found this novel entertaining, touching, and often unexpected. Loved the formats Willis uses to tell his true-life reality show. No movie could be as unique. I completely enjoyed the visit. Below are some excerpts. Glad to see INTERIOR CHINATOWN won an award. It's original,  resembles nothing else.






Kung Fu: (Moderate Proficiency)

Fluent in Accented English

Able to do Face of Great Shame on command


Disgraced son

Delivery Guy

Silent Henchman

Caught Between Two Worlds

Guy Who Runs in and Gets Kicked in the Face

Striving Immigrant

Generic Asian Man



In the world of Black and White, everyone starts out as Generic Asian Man. Everyone who looks like you, anyway. Unless you are a woman, in which case you start out as Pretty Asian Woman.

You all work at Golden Palace, formerly jade Palace of Good Fortune. There's an aquarium in the front and cloudy tanks of rock crabs and two pound lobsters crawling over each other in the back. Laminated menus offer the lunch special, which comes with a bowl of fluffy white rice and choice of soup, egg drop or hot and sour. A neon Tsingtao sign blinks and buzzes behind the bar in the dimly lit space, a dropped-ceiling room with lacquered ornate woodwork (or some imitation thereof), everything simmering in a warm seedy red glowthrown off by the dollar store paper lanterns festooned above, many of them darkened by dead moths, the paper yellowing, ripped, curling in on itself...


Take what you

    can get.

Try to build

      a life.

    A life

    at the 


made from 

bit parts.


Your mother has played, in no particular order:

Pretty Oriental Flower

Asiatic Seductress

Young Dragon Lady

Slightly Less Young Dragon Lady

Restaurant Hostess

Girl with the Almond Eyes

Beauitful Maiden Number One

Dead beautiful Maiden Number One

Old Asian Woman

bit parts


Your father has been, at various times:

Twin Dragon

Wizened Chinaman

Guy in a Soiled T-shirt

Inscrutable grocery owner (in a soiled t-shirt)

Egg Roll Cook

Young Asian Man

Sifu, the Mysterious Kung Fu Master

Old Asian Man