Ethnic Recurring: Charles Yu

Privilege is a kind of blindness. Open doors are invisible. We only see them when they’re closed.

Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown happens entirely in liminal spaces. It’s all in the edges and on the edge. It’s just as Manuel DeLanda writes in A New Philosophy of Society (2006): “In the case of ethnic communities, for instance, the enforcement of identity stories and categories occurs chiefly at the boundary” (p. 59). All of the doors in this story start out closed, and most of them never open. They are all quite visible.

Employing many of the conventions of screenwriting, Yu uses the discrimination of Hollywood casting to explore discrimination elsewhere. Roles like Generic Asian Guy, Old Asian Man, Dead Asian Guy, and the coveted King Fu Guy feel as familiar as they do foreign, which is exactly the point. On the set of Black and White—so named both for its cop-show aesthetics as well as its racial designations (Black Dude Cop and White Lady Cop)—the Asian characters are all on the periphery. For Interior Chinatown however, those are the main characters. Bringing the edges to the middle further highlights the differences.

By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, poignant and important, Interior Chinatown further establishes Charles Yu as one our best cultural critics and commenters, as well as one of our best writers (see also his previous novel, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe [2011], and his short-story collection Sorry Please Thank You [2013], as well as his work on television [e.g., Westworld, Legion, etc.]). Here’s to his continuing to open doors.