Interior Chinatown

Look at me, reading the AWARD winners.

In considering some potential titles for a city-wide read, I decided to read Interior Chinatown. I first heard about it through the usual book channels–a podcast from BookRiot, Publisher’s Weekly–and then it won the National Book award.

Here’s what the NBA (LOL) team said about it in the announcement,

“By turns hilarious and flat-out heartbreaking, Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown is a bright, bold, gut punch of a novel. Written in the form of a screenplay with porous boundaries, Yu’s wonderfully inventive work spotlights the welter of obstacles its everyman protagonist must confront in a profoundly racist, rigidly hierarchical world as he does his best—in the story of his own life—to land a decent role.”

That, to me, is a pretty good description of what we’ve got here. It’s a book as a screenplay, but it’s not like…meant to be a movie instead. The use of screenplay as a form is serving a narrative function to showcase the role of his protagonist, Willis Wu, as a “generic Asian man” in his American life. The story feels almost off-beat in a way, like it’s hard to tell when you’re supposed to laugh and when you’re supposed to cringe, but that helps hammer home the way Asians are treated on screen–and in literature, honestly–and ultimately is a really interesting commentary, told in an interesting way.

It’s also a quick read–though it does take a moment to get “into” and adapt to the style. There’s “scenes” of a cop show, dialogue, stream of consciousness scene-setting, etc. Overall, it’s a good read! I gave it a solid 4 stars. I’m not sure if the average reader–aka someone who isn’t like “oh, yes, I always trust the National Book Award judges”–is going to LOVE this book, but it’s done in such a fascinating way that I hope they try!


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