My short answer to this question is, I'm not entirely sure. I think it's too easy to say it is "not genre," but consider the novel Station Eleven (the link will take you to the goodreads page for the book). Station Eleven is definitely science fiction/dystopian fiction. But it was a finalist for the National Book Award and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner, both very prestigious literary prizes.
Something about that text, much like Interior Chinatown, does something more than the the gimmick of a genre (or in the case of Yu's Chinatown, a structure). That's incredibly difficult to pin down, and, in fact, it would seem that it's often the opinion of others that makes something literary and something not. The awards are, after all, the codification of a set of people who have been deemed experts and knowing it when they see it. Basing a texts quality on whether or not it wins an award is about as useful as deciding it is an important text based on sales. Of course both things happen in the actual world.
However, for our ICRN, I'm asking you to treat Interior Chinatown the way you would treat any text you might encounter in any literature class.That is another way to think about what makes a text "literary": what can the reader do with the text? What ideas/motifs/themes/images can a reader dig in to and make mean something? What work does a reader have to do to be able to understand not just plot but purpose in the text?
WHAT TO POST
Thus, post, in 200 to 300 words, a short close reading of some aspect of Interior Chinatown. I'm not asking for reaction. I'm asking for analysis. Make sure I can tell you read the novel.
2/26/2021 10:18:45 am
The idea of literary fiction when it comes to Interior Chinatown is that it comes from a place of fiction while still recounting a relatable story from the main character. This could be a fictitious retelling of events from the author's personal life or it could be an issue that he wished to explore through writing. While I dislike thinking of it as a glorified memoir, it can be effective for a writer to include as much as they know on a relatable issue if they are personally acquainted with it. What makes this "literary" is that it is described in a way that works as a narrative while not becoming a personal preach. In this story in particular, the tone does shift after the first section as it concludes building the scene and the personal dilemma while still being cogent. As the "plot" progresses, the rest is structured as a personal story of growth as the narrator learns his true path in the acting world given his background.
2/26/2021 10:19:26 am
In Act IV “The Striving Immigrant”, we see a complex relationship between Dorothy and Angela. We see them as sisters, as someone who has already emigrated hosting the “fresh off the boat” family member, and then we see Dorothy as the unexpected object of her brother in law’s desire. We then see the relationship break down and suddenly become not only repaired, but come full circle with a role reversal. This section of the novel echoes Act I as Will is just now going through this type of change with his father. He is unfamiliar with new expectations and his mother reminds him of how he is actually needed to do certain tasks for his “Generic Asian Elder”. Genre fiction is often seen as fluff or not as intellectually stimulating… judging by that criteria: this book was a very quick read. Something I would consider a “beach read”, because I name books according to how laborious it was to actually sit down and read them. For this reason, some passages of Stephen King feel like literary fiction, not horror. I don’t need four pages on a fishbowl Mr. King. The publishing world looks at books that are contenders for literary fiction as word art. Does this author have flair that crosses over into greatness. At first glance, I don’t agree. The script format and font are kitschy. The lower quality paper and cover are reminiscent of the temporary bind that characterizes a script, but without a “cast list” the actors all blur together. Or was that his intent?? This is a book that requires you to chew on it, think about it long and hard after you finish. It’s the kind of book where a scene like Dorothy on the bus will return to you at a random point in life and you will think of the plight of the invisible, generic Asian and yet how much their personal story is identical to your own. One day we will all have to make the decision to take care of a relative or allow others to complete this uncomfortable task. That question is at the heart of this novel. Yu explores it with Will’s father as well as Dorothy and Angela. This is a book about the homogeneity of how American’s view Asians - yes - but it is also about life. This novel is about the human condition and society. On its surface it is a book with more space than type. A pithy commentary on what it means to be a bit actor in a big city. Typecast. But as you ponder why this book is recognized as “important”, you begin to see the layers.
2/26/2021 10:21:01 am
A literary text focuses on a message that is artistically and creatively written. In other words, an author has 100% freedom to write whatever their heart desires. What makes this style unique is language. It’s mostly used to grab audience’s attention. The fun part about literary texts is that authors are free to break grammar rules. Most of these are read for entertainment purposes and can be found in the fiction section. Poetry and songs are good examples of literary texts.
2/26/2021 10:22:21 am
When I think of genre fiction, I think of the separate sections in Barnes and Noble: romance, thriller/horror, science fiction, mystery, fantasy. The point of these novels is to do the genre well, whether that means creating a compelling fantasy world, telling a titillating romantic story, shocking and terrifying your reader, etc.. In contrast, literary fiction uses the genre to make a greater point. Huck Finn, for example, is an adventure story, but it makes a broader point about the hypocrisy of racism in the American South.
2/26/2021 10:22:23 am
Something that I found interesting as I was reading was the imagery that this book drew up for me. When I first started reading, I was trying to wrap my brain around how this book was largely set up like a movie script rather than a novel. I am more accustomed to reading novels and this telenovel, I think that was how it was described in the New York Times article, was very interesting to me. I had to adapt the way I was reading in order to be able to comprehend what You wanted me to see as I read. This structure made it, in a way, easier to read but at the same time I felt that the context of what was being discussed within the book had a stronger impact on me. I really like how many of the Asian American characters were unnamed. It further suggests just how people of Asian decent are all lumped together into these archetypes. This book showed just how hard it is for these people to break out of these stereotypes. We follow the story of Willis who wastes so much of his life trying to give himself a different label that was yet another stereotype. He gives up opportunities to be a committed father and husband just so he can have the one thing that he thought he wanted. But it took him his whole life to realize that what he wanted was no different from all of the other roles that he played in his life. By the end, he was finally able to break away from some of the chains that were placed on him, so he could live a better life that be both wants to live and needs to live.
2/26/2021 05:27:48 pm
2/26/2021 10:22:54 am
Interior Chinatown makes an incredibly poignant point about the way Asian-Americans are perceived in modern society. The author, Charles Yu, makes clear through his characterization of the character Willis Wu that Asian-American actors are so consistently stereotyped and confined to racially determined roles. The whole “Generic Asian Man” theme is meant to reflect how Wu feels he is treated in real life. He yearns to be the leading man, the “Kung Fu Guy,” but the constant and pervasive racism he faces forces him to become “Generic Asian Man.” It becomes incredibly powerful then when Willis Wu finally decides to break out of his societally determined role and begins to act as a leader. He is met with disappointment from his father, and feels as if he has disappointed his lineage, but he hides these emotions in order to better exemplify the role of a leading man. Wu’s father seems to have accepted his “old Asian man” role, and perhaps he wants this for his son as well, or he wants Wu to accept himself and stop trying to appease the system. The way Charles Yu paints this intersection between the desire for personal growth and the desire to honor family is fascinating, because it underscores the immense amount of invisible turmoil that many Asian-Americans face. Wu knows that his parents dream of escaping “Interior Chinatown,” but the economic and societal restrictions in place make it nearly impossible for them to achieve this dream. Wu shares this dream, and finally gets his shot, but is gripped with guilt that he is leaving his family behind. The beautiful and tragic irony of it all is that when Wu finally does get the Kung Fu Guy role he has always wanted, he realizes that his wife Karen was right all along. Wu became resentful when she was offered the lead role in her own show and his pride forces him to stay behind, even though her getting the role meant the family could escape Interior Chinatown together. No matter what Wu does, he just becomes more and more trapped, as society and his family influence him to make decisions that aren’t true to him. The way Charles Yu decides to end the story acts an inspirational conclusion to Wu’s tumultuous journey, as he finally learns the error of his ways. By admitting his obsession of role chasing, Wu realizes that he became consumed by his quest, and has lost himself by submitting to the confines of society. Wu’s struggle comes to a perfect close when he finally understands that, “You are not Kung Fu Guy. You are Willis Wu, dad. Maybe husband…Life at the margins, made from bit pieces,” (256). Such a remarkable delivery system, Yu’s writing style makes these themes hit home more effectively, as the reader is more immersed in the journey of an actor. We are experiencing Willis Wu’s life in the same way that he is, as an actor. Not only is he an actor, but throughout the piece Wu is making jokes and keeping things light, as if he recognizes how ludicrous everything is. This whole story is told through the lens of an actor, yet in the end we learn that Wu’s true self is being a father and a husband, free from the societal pressures and stereotypes. To Willis, he always felt like he had to contextualize himself within the world using an actor archetype, but ultimately that was just society’s way of labeling him. He earned the right to be himself, and by using a unique literary style, the reader can more easily perceive this change.
2/26/2021 10:23:09 am
I feel like Charles Yu wrote his characters in a way that demonstrated a lot of the misconceptions and stereotypes that are unfortunately connected with Asians. It starts with the names: Asian Guy, Old Asian Man, Pretty Asian Hostess, among others. He also gives his characters personalities that extend well beyond those labels. Willis, the main character himself, had a few name changes in “Black and White.” I particularly liked Willis’ monologue from pages 245-253. He says, “The question is: why is the Asian guy always dead? Because we don’t fit. In the story. If someone showed you my picture on the street, how would you describe it? You might say, as Asain fellow. Asian dude. Asian Man. How many of you would say: that’s an American?” (250). Once we heard it directly from the main character, I think it gave a lot of meaning to the themes and events Yu explored throughout his novel such as life in the SRO or the backstories of his parents.
2/26/2021 10:23:16 am
Interior Chinatown was assigned to us because it is a text that can teach us something. We could say every text can teach you something, regardless of genre, but this is a little more specific to teaching us about writing. The style this story is written in is unique. I personally struggled with it a little, fumbling over some of the longer paragraphs because they seemed a little too long and I'd look away, loosing interest, and then loose my place. But they were long because they were descriptive with vague but also detailed description of a place and it's people. Immediately, in the first "Act" I was given a lot of detail information in a way that read like a script and a story at the same time. What we are faced with from the start is the idea of how asians, men in particular, are seen in the world. We are forced to evaluate what this means and examine the truth behind it. Because there is truth behind it.
2/26/2021 10:24:06 am
The novel Interior Chinatown gets readers thinking about the true impact of oppression on both societal and institutional levels through the use of rich characterization and unique formatting choices. Throughout the novel, we see the protagonist Willis Wu struggling with serious identity problems, which Older Brother later calls his "internalized sense of inferiority". Through Wu's hyperfixation on the role of "Kung Fu Guy", his insecurities and deep-seated desire to prove himself to not only the rest of the Chinatown community, but also to Americans and to himself are revealed. The book is filled with rich description of setting, providing us with vivid details about the Golden Palace and Interior Chinatown SRO, which is frequented by sex workers and gangsters along with sons and daughters trying to take care of the elderly family members they left behind if they managed to achieve success despite such difficult circumstances. We are able to see into the lives of these characters in more ways than one, as we not only get to visualize where they live, we also are given their entire life stories/backgrounds, including their start in America and their hopes and dreams regarding what they wanted their lives to become. Through its strong storytelling and dialogue, readers are given a look into the lives of hard-working Asian American immigrants and their struggle to find a place amongst a "Black and White" country.
2/26/2021 10:24:18 am
In Interior Chinatown we can see that the main character Willius Wu, is struggling to make it big in acting because he is an Asian man in the United States. The story tells us the life Asians and Asian Americans lived through the years and it pinpoints familial struggles, immigration, racism, xenophobia, crimes, etc. It tells us that the play will always see Asians as nothing more but the Kung Fu Guy, Delivery Guy, etc. and Willius feels like he can be just more than that but in a racist world, he sees that it is hard to achieve that goal. They always refer to the Black and White, meaning that those are the two "races" that are always in conflict with each other and the world seeing racism between the two. it brings the light that Asian racism is ignored or not taken as seriously while a black and white issue is portrayed more. It also talks about Asians being the 'model minority' which is a toxic stereotype that asians are 'perfect' and could do nothing wrong nor defend themselves against the white people. They are seen as weak and submissive especially the women which American men like.They point out lot of sexism and sexual violence against Asian women and how they are seen in the eyes of Asian men, White men, and Black men. The purpose is to bring the Asian struggles to light as it is seen as minuscule compared to the Black and White.
2/26/2021 10:24:28 am
One of the scenes in the book had the character "Tuner" pulling "Willis" to the side to figure out a problem. When Willis tells him what he is worried about-he is the star. Turner says that if you look on the poster 'Black" is the star. Viewers didn't car what his actual name was. Then when "Green" breaks up the argument, almost trying to be the white savior complex. The scene is a display of what stereotyping is.
2/26/2021 10:31:09 am
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu is a literary fiction piece about the life of an Asian man who grew up in Chinatown. It is written in a format reminiscent of a movie or play script, which is fitting because the narrator explains his world through references to character, scene and setting explicitly. For example, the narrator’s father is often referred to as Old Asian Man, the golden child from the neighborhood as Older Brother and even himself wanting to be known as Kung Fu Guy. This lends to readers thinking deeply about the people being described, as we further get descriptions of their values, mannerism, physical appearance and motivations. Additionally, readers are able to pick up on the themes of race and poverty among the residence of Chinatown through this format. We come to understand the limitations and stereotypes placed on the Asian community through the characters and the situations that the narrator describes. He tells us about the boxes and caricatures that Asians are relegated to and the ceiling that Asian actors hit eventually. Along with this description of roles, readers are also able to grasp the inner workings of Chinatown and its residence, as we are given access to their lifestyles through this context of a script.
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