The format of this novel will not be for everyone. It requires you to hold twin understandings of what’s going on. It’s presented as a script for TV/Movie, and while sometimes it seems like a straight up inner monologue of an actor doing that script, it slowly morphs into the real world and the main character, Willis Wu, seems to be playing a role in his real life as well: double layers.
That said, its a very powerful exploration of the way society codifies racial stereotypes into entertainment and that influences the ways we see ourselves and what is possible for our lives and jobs.
On the other hand, its a story about an actor in America who is of Chinese background and thinks the highest possible level of success he can obtain is to go from “background asian” to “asian speaker number one” to his ultimate goal: Kung Fu guy on the set of a police procedural where the main characters are two detectives: one black, one white.
Slowly, his aspirations are challenged when he comes across a certain actress who is able to flow more smoothly between roles.
This reads quickly, more like a novella as each page is like a script page and often there are only a few lines. But don’t be fooled, if you’re up to the challenge of the format of the novel, then you will be rewarded with some honest, often difficult realizations about the way Americans treat Asians in the media and historically. One of the most powerful sections is one where our main character is on trial, and an older brother is defending him expounding on why he feels the pain of marginalization and stereotyping, but is often unable to articulate for himself outrage against it:
“That the wrongs committed against your ancestors are incommensurate in magnitutde with those committed against Black people in America. …that the validity and volume of your complaints must be calibrated appropriately, must be in proportion to the aggregate suffering of your people. Your oppression is second class.”
And then it even goes on from there with more harsh truths.
So one one hand, its quick, easy reading. On the other hand, the picture of the main character, Willis Wu, that emerges is complicated and unique and one important to anyone with an immigration background in the USA (that is…almost everyone except First Peoples).