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February 15, 2023

Free Library chooses satire 'Interior Chinatown' as One Book, One Philadelphia pick

Charles Yu's award-winning 2020 novel critiques Asian stereotypes through a screenplay format

Books Free Library
Interior Chinatown Philadelphia Tina Chiou/Penguin Random House

The Free Library has chosen 'Interior Chinatown' by Charles Yu as its 2023 pick for One Book, One Philadelphia. The 2020 novel won the National Book Award for fiction.

This year, the Free Library is encouraging Philadelphians to follow the tale of Willis Wu, a background actor stuck bouncing between stereotypical roles in "Interior Chinatown," the newest pick for One Book, One Philadelphia.

The reading initiative, now in its 21st year, seeks to spark conversations among city residents and increase visits to their local library branches. At a Wednesday press conference, Mayor Jim Kenney unveiled Charles Yu's "Interior Chinatown" as the 2023 selection.

The novel is a "darkly hilarious" satire that finds Willis taking on roles like "Dead Asian Man" to "Delivery Guy" on a fictional cop show. The story is formatted like a screenplay, which is familiar territory for Yu, a writer on HBO's "Westworld" and FX's "Legion."

"Everyone's seen 'Law & Order,'" Yu said in a 2020 "Daily Show" interview. "You have the two leads in the front, and they're discussing the case. And way in the back, pretty much out of focus, is an Asian guy unloading a van. 

"I was like, 'What if you told the story from that guy's point of view, in the 'Law & Order' universe?' And I started to get interested in this world and exploring the world, because the view from the bottom looks different than the view from where the leads are standing."

The book also explores themes of assimilation and challenges the concept of "model minorities." It took home the National Book Award for Fiction in 2020, and Hulu is currently adapting the story into a 10-episode series starring Jimmy O. Yang of "Silicon Valley" and "Crazy Rich Asians." Yu will serve as showrunner.

The Free Library will host several free events centered on "Interior Chinatown." They start April 20 with a community fair and virtual conversation with Yu at the Parkway Central Library. Library cardholders can request a copy of the novel on the Free Library's website, or one of two recommended companion books — Gene Luen Yang's "American Born Chinese" and Minh Lê's "Drawn Together" — for younger readers.

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