A NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE SELECTION * A MALALA BOOK CLUB PICK * AN INDIE NEXT PICK * A FAVORITE BOOK OF 2022 BY NPR AND BOOK RIOT * A MUST-READ MARCH 2022 BOOK BY TIME, VANITY FAIR, EW AND THE CHICAGO REVIEW OF BOOKS * A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF 2022 BY GOODREADS, NYLON, BUZZFEED AND MORE
A Taiwanese American woman’s coming-of-consciousness ignites eye-opening revelations and chaos on a college campus in this outrageously hilarious and startlingly tender debut novel.
Twenty-nine-year-old PhD student Ingrid Yang is desperate to finish her dissertation on the late canonical poet Xiao-Wen Chou and never read about “Chinese-y” things again. But after years of grueling research, all she has to show for her efforts are junk food addiction and stomach pain. When she accidentally stumbles upon a curious note in the Chou archives one afternoon, she convinces herself it’s her ticket out of academic hell.
But Ingrid’s in much deeper than she thinks. Her clumsy exploits to unravel the note’s message lead to an explosive discovery, upending not only her sheltered life within academia but her entire world beyond it. With her trusty friend Eunice Kim by her side and her rival Vivian Vo hot on her tail, together they set off a roller coaster of mishaps and misadventures, from book burnings and OTC drug hallucinations, to hot-button protests and Yellow Peril 2.0 propaganda.
In the aftermath, nothing looks the same to Ingrid—including her gentle and doting fiancé, Stephen Greene. When he embarks on a book tour with the super kawaii Japanese author he’s translated, doubts and insecurities creep in for the first time… As the events Ingrid instigated keep spiraling, she’ll have to confront her sticky relationship to white men and white institutions—and, most of all, herself.
For readers of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown, this uproarious and bighearted satire is a blistering send-up of privilege and power in America, and a profound reckoning of individual complicity and unspoken rage. In this electrifying debut novel from a provocative new voice, Elaine Hsieh Chou asks who gets to tell our stories—and how the story changes when we finally tell it ourselves.
Chou debuts with a zany if uneven romp through American academia and cultural assimilation. PhD student Ingrid Yang is desperate to write a dissertation that will impress her committee and earn her a postdoc fellowship that will put off her student loan payments. Her subject, the late canonical Chinese American poet Xiao-Wen Chou, once taught at her school, the mid-range Barnes University in Massachusetts, and Chou's legacy is a crucial source of Barnes's prestige. As Ingrid doggedly investigates a mysterious note found in Chou's archives, she wrestles with estrangement from her ancestral Chinese culture, anxiety over the male gaze—she wonders if her white fiancé merely has a fetish for Asian women—and frets about her own attraction to white men. There's also her friend Eunice Kim, a hyper-gorgeous Korean girl; Eunice's younger brother, Alex, Eunice's tough yet insecure male counterpart; and Michael Bartholomew, the orientalizing professor in Barnes's primarily white East Asian Studies department. Sometimes the portraits feel a bit too cartoonish—there is a moment, for instance, when Eunice is described as "impeccable, ready to guest star in a music video"—but overall Chou effectively skewers a world that takes itself all too seriously, particularly after Ingrid makes an explosive discovery about Chou that could compromise Barnes. This will charm a wide set of readers, not just those pursuing PhDs.