CHARLIE CHAN by Yunte Huang
Kirkus Star

CHARLIE CHAN

The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History

KIRKUS REVIEW

China-born poet and critic Huang (English/Univ. of California, Santa Barbara/Transpacific Imaginations: History, Literature, Counterpoetics, 2008, etc.) recounts the making of an American folk hero.

Debuting as a minor character in novelist Earl Derr Biggers’ The House Without a Key (1925), Charlie Chan attained enormous popularity through six novels and nearly 50 films, as well as radio dramas and a comic strip, creating what the author calls a “tortured legacy in American culture, a legacy that at once endears and offends millions.” By the late ’40s, the genial, aphorism-spouting detective was firmly established as a funny, beloved figure, or as a Yellow Uncle Tom, depending on one’s point of view. In this original, deeply personal account, Huang illuminates every conceivable aspect of Chan and his place in American culture. His vibrant narrative tells the stories of Biggers, a newspaperman turned novelist, who created Chan as an alternative to Sax Rohmer’s villainous character Fu Manchu; Chang Apana, a legendary, crime-busting Chinese cop in Honolulu who wore a Panama hat, carried a bullwhip and became the real-life basis for Chan; and the fictional Chan, who entered American popular culture just as nativists succeeded in pushing through anti-Chinese immigrant legislation. Chan was played in hit movies by Swedish actor Warner Oland and others and has been vehemently dismissed in recent years as nothing more than a racial stereotype by author and playwright Frank Chin and other prominent Asian Americans. Huang takes a balanced view. Chan is a racist stereotype, he writes, but he is also a folk hero, exemplifying the “cultural miscegenation” that critic Stanley Crouch calls “the catalyst of the American experience.” The author makes a convincing case for Chan’s place in film history not as an Uncle Tom but rather as one in a line of wise detectives with eccentricities, including Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. An appendix offers more than 50 “Charlie Chanisms.”

Multilayered, provocative and highly accessible, this will appeal to Chan fans, scholars and general readers.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-393-06962-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2010




2010 NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALISTS:

Fiction A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan
by Jennifer Egan
Fiction FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen
by Jonathan Franzen
Fiction TO THE END OF THE LAND by David Grossman
by David Grossman
Fiction COMEDY IN A MINOR KEY by Hans Keilson
by Hans Keilson

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionTHE CHINESE IN AMERICA by Iris Chang
by Iris Chang
FictionWORLD AND TOWN by Gish Jen
by Gish Jen
NonfictionTHE DRAGON AND THE FOREIGN DEVILS by Harry G. Gelber
by Harry G. Gelber