A NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR • From the New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu, a gripping memoir on friendship, grief, the search for self, and the solace that can be found through art.
“This book is exquisite and excruciating and I will be thinking about it for years and years to come.” —Rachel Kushner, two-time National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room
In the eyes of eighteen-year-old Hua Hsu, the problem with Ken—with his passion for Dave Matthews, Abercrombie & Fitch, and his fraternity—is that he is exactly like everyone else. Ken, whose Japanese American family has been in the United States for generations, is mainstream; for Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, who makes ’zines and haunts Bay Area record shops, Ken represents all that he defines himself in opposition to. The only thing Hua and Ken have in common is that, however they engage with it, American culture doesn’t seem to have a place for either of them.
But despite his first impressions, Hua and Ken become friends, a friendship built on late-night conversations over cigarettes, long drives along the California coast, and the successes and humiliations of everyday college life. And then violently, senselessly, Ken is gone, killed in a carjacking, not even three years after the day they first meet.
Determined to hold on to all that was left of one of his closest friends—his memories—Hua turned to writing. Stay True is the book he’s been working on ever since. A coming-of-age story that details both the ordinary and extraordinary, Stay True is a bracing memoir about growing up, and about moving through the world in search of meaning and belonging.
New Yorker staff writer Hsu braids music, art, and philosophy in his extraordinary debut. As a second-generation Taiwanese American coming of age in 1990s Cupertino, Calif., Hsu traversed an evolving cultural climate with rebellious gusto, finding creative expression in zines and developing, as he writes, a "worldview defined by music." At UC Berkeley Hsu met Ken, an extroverted, "mainstream" frat-brother whose only similarity to Hsu was that he was Asian American. Yet despite their differences, an unlikely friendship bloomed. In lyrical prose punctuated with photos, Hsu recalls smoke-filled conversations from the philosophy of Heidegger to the failures of past relationships trolling chat rooms and writing a movie script with Ken as they navigated a world teeming with politics and art, and basked in the uncertainty of a future both fearsome and enthralling. That future came to a harrowing end when Ken was murdered, leaving Hsu to fend for himself while unraveling the tragedy. As he recounts sinking into songs "of heartbreak and resurrection," Hsu parses the grief of losing his friend and eloquently captures the power of friendship and unanswerable questions spurred in the wake of senseless violence. The result is at once a lucid snapshot of life in the nineties, an incredible story of reckoning, and a moving elegy to a fallen friend.