“On the one hand, [Charlie Chan] embodies the racist legacy of American culture, which is racial ventriloquism,” says Yunte Huang. “On the other hand, embedded in this racial ventriloquism is also some kind of amazing, creative genius.” Huang, who came to the United States in ’91 with a bachelor’s degree in English from Peking University, first encountered Earl Derr Biggers’ “honorable detective” at an estate sale where he picked up two volumes of a Charlie Chan collection for a dollar a piece. He was earning his doctorate from SUNY Buffalo’s Poetics Program at the time and was drawn to the wise-cracking detective’s rat-a-tat aphorisms that mimicked the Chinese pidgin of such racially charged poems as 1870’s “The Heathen Chinee.” “Aphorism is one of the remaining fields for poetry, sad to say,” says Huang. For this book, Huang investigated the real-life Honolulu detective upon which Chan is based, Chan’s creator Biggers, the Charlie Chan films and the legacy of Chinese in America. “ ‘Truth, like football—receive many kicks before reaching goal,’ ” says Huang, quoting a favorite “Chanism.” “To find out the truth about Charlie Chan, I had to give this ball many kicks. That’s why I have all the different chapters, different angles, just one kick after another.”
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Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History
Norton / August / 9780393069624 / $26.95
This book was featured in the Kirkus Best of 2010