Cast as Stereotypes   2 comments

Clever, timely and important are what come to mind after reading Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu.

Written as a script for a fictional television show, along with some background about the characters/actors, the novel follows Willie Wu in his quest for the prime part of Kung Fu Guy in the police show “Black and White.” He, and his Chinatown neighbors, family and friends have been relegated to roles such as Generic Asian Man, Young Asian Man, Delivery Guy, Pretty Oriental Flower and Old Asian Woman, among other stereotypes.

The setting is mostly the Golden Palace, where the show is in constant production. Willie lives in an SRO, as do the other Asian cast members, viewed as interchangeable, above the restaurant/set. His parents live one floor below him in the unit where he grew up. They, too, have had various roles throughout the years.

Yu establishes the scene, the characters involved and provides production notes. Even his acknowledgements adhere to the theme. It doesn’t take long to realize the name of the television show is another example of racism with the main characters reflecting a hierarchy based on the “Black and White” title.

The script-like approach takes some getting used, but ultimately works well. The Wu family’s past isn’t part of the TV show, but is a major element of the narrative. Although the theme is serious, Yu injects humor and romance as Willie faces the dilemma faced by many regardless of race: attaining a dream but at what sacrifice?

Interior Chinatown

Four Bookmarks

Pantheon Books, 2020

270 pages

2 responses to “Cast as Stereotypes

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  1. Hey Robin, I find your reviews insightful and informative. Thanks so much!! This is one I will forward to Matt and Hannah in Chicago too! Karen

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