Set in Cleveland in the '80s, this innovative work--that mixes film script, TV scenes, narration and dialogue--explores American culture through the eyes of three engaging Chinese graduate students, giving readers a jump-cut montage of life that's surprisingly funny, dark at the edges, and wonderfully original all the way through.
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A white American observes three graduate students from China cope with the US--especially TV--while they're also being filmed for a documentary: Whisnant's first novel, portions of which appeared in Esquire, is a breezy, likable tragicomedy that lightly bats about issues in contemporary culture. After a stint as a starving artist in New York, Dexter Mitchell finds himself stuck in Cleveland. Still, the city does have advantages--a lively multicultural neighborhood, the amusement afforded by the brilliant, inventive, but often hapless Chinese students who are being filmed, and the promise--for those who can get it--of love with the beautiful but difficult Suzanne. It's Dexter who, with many a wry turn of phrase, tells the students' story, intercut with excerpts from the documentary film script. During the days of hostages in Iran, Reagan's election, and John Lennon's assassination, the students learn the language of brand names and football; they parody American ideas of Chinese culture after seeing old Charlie Chan movies. Wa remains faithful to his communist vision and avoids corrupting influences; pragmatic Tzu is not overwhelmed by either comfort or dogma; while the youngest student, Chen, finds tragedy as he plunges into the materialism and pleasures of American life. His naive identification with Malcolm X (both are nonwhite, both memorize words from the dictionary) cannot protect him from black muggers; his affair with Suzanne leads to his own violent American death. Gentle fun-poking at cultural fashions and cross-cultural confusion, plus some surfacey but enthusiastic intellectual reference-dropping: a quick, charming read that skirts the pain and rarely transcends its clever premise. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From School Library Journal:
YA-- The time is 1980. The place is Cleveland. The characters include Dexter, an erstwhile actor; Suzanne, a not-so-gay divorcee; Zap, her quondam lover and a borderline psychopath; Mr. Little, an African-American school teacher; his two less-than-appealing children; and three Communist Chinese students in the United States for the year studying systems. The story is told by Dexter, and is interspersed with dialogue and descriptions from a "documentary" produced by a film student and his beautiful, black assistant. Dexter is very taken with the three Chinese to whom he has become somewhat of a interpreter of American culture. Wa, Tzu, and Chen are beguilingly innocent and yet frighteningly perceptive in their views of pre-Reagan America. Much of their bemusement is very funny, but their observations become quite sobering as they become increasingly aware of the underlying hatred they perceive around them. The story line moves slowly, but does not drag, and the build up to the denouement is logical and inevitable. The characters are well drawn, and readers begin to care for and understand all of them. Many of the allusions to events of the period might be unfamiliar to today's YAs, but the story is very solidly set in its time and can certainly be viewed as a historical novel as well as a commentary on life in the not so distant past.
- Susan H. Woodcock, Potomac Library, Woodbridge, VA
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Book Description Grand Central Publishing, 1994. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110446670073
Book Description Grand Central Publishing. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0446670073 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.1097905
Book Description Grand Central Publishing, 1994. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0446670073