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Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 30, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 354 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (August 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393069621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393069624
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 7 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #196,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

Described as a "heady mixture of scholarship, essay and memoir" (Washington Post), Charlie Chan energetically deconstructs the social and cultural milieu of the fictional detective as it examines the people and events that contributed to his popularity. Huang interweaves a vast number of historical and cultural topics in this sprawling work, including the class system of prestatehood Hawaii, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the "Yellow Peril," American literature, and Hollywood. Critics praised Huang's extensive research, careful analysis, and his willingness to use his own experiences as a Chinese immigrant to examine racism, exploitation, and assimilation--a deeply personal but surprisingly cheerful journey into his past. As provocative as it is engaging, Charlie Chan will captivate fans of all genres.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The Charlie Chan we know from the movies (played by Swedish actor Warner Oland) had two strands to his DNA: E. D. Biggers’ immensely popular Charlie Chan novels and the actual man on whom Biggers based his tales. The model for Biggers’ canny Honolulu detective was Chang Apana, who rose from Hawaiian paniolo (cowboy) in the 1890s to Humane Society officer to Honolulu cop and detective in the early twentieth century. Chang’s beat concentrated on the notorious gambling dens, scenes and seeds of drugs and violence in the labyrinth of Honolulu’s Chinatown. Huang, who was born in China and is a professor of English at the University of California, brings a wealth of perspective on the treatment of Chinese, both historically and in fiction, to this work. Readers will learn a great deal about how the Chinese fared as plantation workers in Hawaii, about Hawaiian history, about Chang, about Biggers, and about the meaning of the Chan oeuvre, both books and movies. Huang also works in his own story of immigrating to the U.S., which is both stirring and illuminating. This is a beautifully written analysis of racism and an appreciation of Charlie Chan and Chang Apana, made credible by Huang’s background. As Huang says, As a man from China, a Chinese man come to America, I say: ‘Chan is dead! Long live Charlie Chan!’ --Connie Fletcher

More About the Author

YUNTE HUANG is a Professor of English at the University of California; he has also taught at Harvard. The author of "Charlie Chan," "Transpacific Imaginations," "Transpacific Displacement," and "CRIBS," Huang, born in China, now lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Customer Reviews

There are many interesting pictures in the book as well.
Lady J
This is based on the true story of how Earl Derr Biggers came about his character, the great Chinese detective Charlie Chan.
Kenneth W. Kassen
I hope we get to read many more books by him over the years!
David Crumm

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Hercule Poirot are among the most famous of literary characters. They may have had their eccentricities, but being of an exotic or foreign racial extraction was not among them. It's different for another famous shamus, Charlie Chan; I know detective fiction fans might be able to think of some other non-white gumshoe, but he's the only one who comes to my mind. Chan did all the detective work those other sleuths did but in an honorable and modest way that was quite different, and all the while he mouthed amusing aphorisms that would have fit well inside a fortune cookie ("The wise elephant does not seek to ape the butterfly."). It says something that while none of those other detectives is at all controversial, Charlie Chan has at times been at the center of controversy, racial controversy. Chan's controversies, his origins, his portrayals in film, and his continuing appeal are the themes within _Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History_ (Norton) by Yunte Huang. Huang is from China, but is an American citizen and professor of English. In his graduate student days, he came upon Charlie Chan books at a garage sale and became a fan. He has turned his literary skills, as well as big dollops of history, onto the Chan case, and obviously enjoys letting us know about the often surprising facts he has uncovered. His book is a cheerful and insightful appreciation that will help anyone more deeply understand Chan's illustrious career.

Chan was the brainchild of Earl Derr Biggers, who grew up in Ohio and in 1925 wrote _The House Without a Key_, the book in which Charlie Chan first appeared.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Eileen P. Kopelman on November 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was really interesting. I saw the author on Booknotes on TV and ordered the book after hearing him talk about it. The book is about the real "Charlie Chan" on which the movies were based. At first I didn't think the book would be an easy read, but it kept drawing me in with well researched twists and turns. The author even has a very plausible theory about how the writer of the Charlie Chan stories, Earl Biggers, came up with the name Charlie Chan for his work. The book takes the reader through the early childhood of a Chinese boy who was born in Hawaii, how he became a famous detective, and finally, to the end of his life. Woven throughout is the tale of Earl Biggers who wrote the Charlie Chan stories and made a fortune doing it, as well as the stories of the actors who played Charlie in the movies. This book would be fabulous for a book club that would want to have a discussion and a real Charlie Chan movie afterwards.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Anne Salazar on October 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book on so many levels. It is much more than just the story of a beloved, bright and humorous character of our popular culture, Charlie Chan; it is also the story of a Harvard-educated author who made his best living by accidentally inventing this character in one of his books. This exemplifies all of the arthor interviews I have ever read wherein the author explains the creation of action and characters as having been led to them inadvertently, through the process of writing. Thus, the magic of the written word.

The author includes his own story, thereby illuminating the journey taken by so many immigrants over the course of American history. Above all, I think the message here clearly is: Lighten up, know your history and have some fun while learning it!

As is frequently the case with books published in the U.S., the book jacket seems weird. The picture of Apana is strange and off-putting, while the photo of the Charlie Chan character is interesting but relegated to a lower corner. It reminds me of the terrible design selected for California as part of the commerative series of Quarters: it is not necessary to include every aspect of a State, or a book, in a small spece, because it (the book cover as well as the 25-cent coin) then becomes cramped and messy. Less is better, almost always when working in small spaces. And yes, people DO, in fact, judge a book by its cover while browsing ...

I shouldn't be side-tracked here, though, because I loved the book and, as a character says, it does make me want to go back to Hawaii again, and soon. This book gives us a lot of Hawaiian history, publishing history, Chinese history, etc., and all of it with a smile on our faces "for very wonderful book".
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey A. Thompson VINE VOICE on February 10, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The positives are that the author writes extremely well. He has a gift of phrasing and word choice. The book is about interesting people: Chang Apana is the inspiration for Charlie Chan, Biggers is the author of the Charlie Chan books, Warner Oland is the actor who first played Chan in the talkies, and the author writes about his own experiences. Since the author started out dirt poor in China and becomes a professor of English Literature, the story is fascinating. The author also writes about western society, xenophobia, the colonization of Hawaii, a kidnapping, a murder and a host of other topics. He writes perceptively and with insight.

The downside of the book is it tends to ramble. The author gives background on everything. He tries to put everything in its context. The problem is that I enjoy the Charlie Chan books, but they are not great literature and Biggers is a good but not a great writer. The librarian in Biggers's hometown did not even know who Biggers was. So when Huang gives context for everything, he tends to lose the narrative thread. The net effect of these little side trips to explain everything is that I tended to read faster and faster. I skimmed the last few chapters of the book and I slowed down only when I saw something I liked.

In summary, if you want a book that is a pleasant rambling journey, this is the book. I read somewhere that C. S. Lewis hated going on walks with J. R. R. Tolkien. Lewis wanted to talk and get to the pub somewhat on time. Tolkien stopped constantly to enjoy the foliage, bugs or whatever. If you are a reader like Tolkien is a walker then this is the book for you.
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