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How Charles Yu Responds to American Contradictions Through "Scripted Fiction"

On the afternoon of June 2, 2022, during the Taipei International Book Exhibition, author Charles Yu, known for Interior Chinatown, appeared via live video connection from the West Coast of the United States to meet Taiwanese readers across the ocean. This online reader meetup, organized by the New Classics Culture Publishing House, invited T. C. Chang, the publisher and editor-in-chief of VERSE, to host and ask questions, with Leonard Chien providing on-site interpretation. Together, they delved into the backstory of Charles Yu's novel Interior Chinatown, which won the National Book Award for Best Fiction in 2020.
"Ta̍k-ke-hó!" Charles Yu greeted in Taiwanese as he appeared in front of the camera, using the same gesture that all foreigners use when going on stage, surprising and delighting the audience. As the first Taiwanese-American writer to win the National Book Award for Best Fiction, Charles Yu finally made his debut at the Taipei International Book Exhibition through a transoceanic connection, 60 years after his parents left their homeland, to discuss the deeply connected "Interior Chinatown."

Being Asian Does Not Equate to Kung Fu Movies or Bruce Lee

When asked about his feelings upon receiving the National Book Award, Charles Yu admitted that he was completely overwhelmed with excitement and surprise when he received the notification. He didn't know what to say and experienced a mental freeze. It wasn't until a month later, when he finally started to feel like a real award-winning author, that self-doubt began to creep in. Reflecting on the year 2020—a peculiar year filled with significant social and international events, including his own award—he acknowledged that suddenly the world paid attention to his work, and he felt honored to receive high praise.
Mr. Chang specifically inquired about the response from the Asian and Taiwanese communities. Charles Yu said, "The majority of the response has been positive." Some schools or companies even choose to read this book when discussing Asian-American culture. He also had more opportunities to engage in online exchanges with the Taipei American School. For the author, the most meaningful aspect was that many Asian immigrants with similar backgrounds were given a chance to speak up and share their growth experiences and feelings.
Charles Yu was most curious about how Taiwanese readers approach Interior Chinatown since the book specifically explores the experiences of Asian or Taiwanese immigrants in America. Characters like Willis Wu, the protagonist, are not commonly seen, and the author incorporated his own second-generation immigrant life experiences into the character. In this black-and-white world, he felt difficult to adapt and lacked a sense of belonging. He also felt alienated within Chinatown and didn't quite belong there either.
Maudlin Yeh, the editor-in-chief of Thinkingdom, was particularly curious if Charles Yu was a fan of kung fu movies. In response, the author stated that he actually didn't watch them much, but in American society, the image of Asians on television is often associated with kung fu movies and Bruce Lee. To Americans, kung fu films are a quintessential Asian element, and this stereotype became a central theme running through the entire book.

Unlocking the Writer's Block with Hollywood Screenwriting Experience

The most distinctive feature of Interior Chinatown, from its title to its narrative structure and genre, is its use of a screenplay-like format. Ever since joining the script team of Westworld in 2014, Charles Yu's practical experience as a screenwriter has taught him to think in visual terms. In 2017, he made the decision to write his new work in screenplay format, which eventually became the published version we have today. He is immensely grateful for and cherishes his experience working with the HBO team.

Completing the Taiwanese Puzzle in the Asian American Community

The original intention behind this book is actually Charles Yu's heartfelt message: as a second-generation immigrant of Asian descent who holds American citizenship, he has always contemplated his own circumstances and sense of belonging. Although he experiences less discrimination compared to the previous generation, and has far more opportunities than his parents, the stereotypical perception of Asians still persists in American society. Even if his children are third-generation immigrants, born and raised in the United States, and will spend their entire lives in the same country, the Asian faces and blood running through their veins still make Charles Yu feel forever like an other.
In addition to researching and studying historical materials himself, Charles Yu retraced many childhood stories he had heard through conversations with his parents. However, he emphasizes that the novel is a work of fiction. "This is not an autobiographical novel. Most of the content slowly took shape and transformed from certain emotions or ideas to become the book in your hands," says Charles Yu.

The Writer's Journey is an Accumulation of Growth

During the discussion, Professor Te-hsing Shan asked Charles Yu, the author of Interior Chinatown, about his literary upbringing.
Charles Yu mentioned that he had enjoyed writing since he was young and had always aspired to be a writer. However, he didn't quite understand what being a writer meant. So, during his formative years, he explored different paths. He studied science initially and even worked as a lawyer. But in the end, he returned to writing. He jokingly said, "Despite my parents initially hoping for me to become a doctor." For him, these divergent life experiences along his journey became the foundation and nourishment for becoming a writer.
Towards the end of the event, Charles Yu expressed special gratitude to his parents for their upbringing and understanding. At that moment, we finally understood that the sincere and upright author before us still held the Asian values of family ties, a sentiment rooted in his upbringing and education. Even after leaving his homeland for many years, this spirit continues to be passed down—a cultural heritage.

Panelists

Charles Yu
Charles Yu is the author of three books, including the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (a New York Times Notable Book and a Time magazine best book of the year). He received the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 Award and was nominated for two Writers Guild of America Awards for his work on the HBO series, Westworld. He has also written for shows on FX, AMC, and HBO. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired, among other publications.
T.C. Chang
Born in Taipei, studied in New York for five years, and resided in Hong Kong for nearly three years. He has dedicated their career to writing and media. He is currently the founder, president, and editor-in-chief of the new media platform VERSE and a co-owner of the bookstore BleuBook. His published works include Sounds and Fury: Can Rock Music Change the World? and The Revolution of Imagination: Utopian Pursuits in the 1960s.

Full Article in Traditional Chinese

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勒利•索可洛夫(Lale Sokolov,1916~2006)人生中有超過50年都懷著一個秘密,這段不能說出口的往事發生於二戰時的歐洲,那時,納粹德國人對猶太人做出不可思議的恐怖事跡。80歲以前,勒利完全無法向人說出這段過去,即使他的生活離那個恐怖地方有千里遠。 勒利曾經是奧斯維辛集中營的刺青師。
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