Synopses & Reviews
CHINATOWN, U.S.A.: a state of mind, a world within a world, a neighborhood that exists in more cities than you might imagine. Every day, Americans find something different in Chinatown's narrow lanes and overflowing markets, tasting exotic delicacies from a world apart or bartering for a trinket on the street -- all without ever leaving the country. It's a place that's foreign yet familiar, by now quite well known on the Western cultural radar, but splitting the difference still gives many visitors to Chinatown the sense, above all, that things are not what they seem -- something everyone in popular culture, from Charlie Chan to Jack Nicholson, has been telling us for decades. And it's true that few visitors realize just how much goes on beneath the surface of this vibrant microcosm, a place with its own deeply felt history and stories of national cultural significance.
But Chinatown is not a place that needs solving; it's a place that needs a more specific telling. In American Chinatown, acclaimed travel writer Bonnie Tsui takes an affectionate and attentive look at the neighborhood that has bewitched her since childhood, when she eagerly awaited her grandfather's return from the fortune-cookie factory. Tsui visits the country's four most famous Chinatowns -- San Francisco (the oldest), New York (the biggest), Los Angeles (the film icon), Honolulu (the crossroads) -- and makes her final, fascinating stop in Las Vegas (the newest; this Chinatown began as a mall); in her explorations, she focuses on the remarkable experiences of ordinary people, everyone from first-to fifth-generation Chinese Americans. American Chinatown breaks down the enigma of Chinatown by offering narrative glimpses: intriguing characters who reveal the realities and the unexpected details of Chinatown life that American audiences haven't heard. There are beauty queens, celebrity chefs, immigrant garment workers; there are high school kids who are changing inner-city life in San Francisco, Chinese extras who played key roles in 1940s Hollywood, new arrivals who go straight to dealer school in Las Vegas hoping to find their fortunes in their own vision of gold mountain. Tsui's investigations run everywhere, from mom-and-pop fortune-cookie factories to the mall, leaving no stone unturned.
By interweaving her personal impressions with the experiences of those living in these unique communities, Tsui beautifully captures their vivid stories, giving readers a deeper look into what Chinatown means to its inhabitants, what each community takes on from its American home, and what their experience means to America at large. For anyone who has ever wandered through Chinatown and wondered what it was all about, and for Americans wanting to understand the changing face of their own country, American Chinatown is an all-access pass.
"Tsui (She Went to the Field) offers a meandering 'personal geography' of the Chinatowns in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Honolulu and Las Vegas. Straining to be a travelogue, sociological snapshot and history of Tsui's own family's immigrant experience, the account is repetitious and perfunctory. The author doesn't spend sufficient time on her subjects including an Asian studies professor born in San Francisco's Chinatown, or the ethnic Chinese artist originally from Vietnam who made his way to Honolulu's Chinatown via Indonesia to clinch the reader's interest or to compose a compelling narrative of the neighborhoods. She maintains that she never feels more at home than when visiting an American Chinatown, but her limited insights may lead readers to feel like the tourists she disparages, the ones who visit Chinatown for an afternoon but fail to look beyond its faded facades and kitschy gift shops. Her treatment strikes its most superficial chord when she reaches the banal conclusion that American Chinatowns represent 'heartland Asian America.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Tsui offers a unique full-access pass to America's most famous Chinatowns--New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and Las Vegas--revealing a captivating world-within-a-world. b&w photos throughout.
About the Author
Bonnie Tsui is a frequent contributor to Travel + Leisure
where she worked as an editorand the travel sections of The New York Times
and The Boston Globe
, for whom she is a California-based correspondent; she also writes for National Geographic Adventure
, and O the Oprah Magazine
. She is the editor of a outdoor essay anthology from Sierra Club Books, entitled A Leaky Tent Is a Piece of Paradise: 20 Young Writers on Finding a Place in the Natural World
(March 2007) and the author of She Went to the Field
(Globe Pequot Press, 2003), a brief history of women soldiers who fought in the American Civil War. She is a graduate of Harvard University and a recipient of the Radcliffe Traveling Fellowship, and has also worked as a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald