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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In Yamashita's latest, she strings together a stunningly complete vision of San Francisco's Asian American community in the late 1960s and early '70s, using the titular inn as a meeting point for ten loosely-connected novellas, each covering a single year. Focusing on the struggle for equality and peace as it involved this particular community, Yamashita's work also incorporates a broad view of the Asian and Asian American experiences, from Japanese internment camps to the Marcos dictatorship. Yamashita accomplishes a dynamic feat of mimesis by throwing together achingly personal stories of lovers, old men, and orphaned children; able synopses of historical events and social upheaval; and public figures like Lenin and Malcolm X (Yamashita's opening line: "So I'm Water Cronkite, dig?"). Despite its experimental and fictionalized nature, the novel reads more like a patchwork oral history, determined to relate the facts of its setting and, more importantly, the feelings of it; with varied commingling of voices and formats (stream-of-consciousness, slangy first person, quotes, dossiers, academic papers, even written-out choreography), the narrative reads like a collection of primary sources. Though it isn't for everyone, this powerful, deeply felt, and impeccably researched fiction is irresistibly evocative and overwhelming in every sense. 30 b&w photos and illus.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The International Hotel, or I Hotel, was an actual San Francisco landmark, the base for a wild array of pan-Asian artistic, political, and community endeavors. And now this “fortress” and “beacon” provides the impetus and structure for Yamashita's exuberant, irreverent, passionately researched, and many-voiced novel about the Yellow Power movement. Author of the indelible Tropic of Orange (1997), Yamashita nets the social and personal ferment of the years 1968 through 1977 in 10 interconnected, stylistically varied segments. As this jazzy, kaleidoscopic novel unfolds, we meet orphaned teenager Paul and his mentor Chen, a radical professor; Mo Akagi, a Yellow Panther; Gerald, an avant-garde saxophonist; Sandy Hu, an innovative choreographer; and all kinds of gutsy and inventive activists, some in wheelchairs, who comprise a broad spectrum of courageous Asian Americans asserting their rights. With a rich soundscape punctuated by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin; Mao, Malcolm, and Martin; and a narrative pastiche of demonstrations, jam sessions, guerrilla theater, and kung fu; transcripts, puns, and letters––not to mention sex, pot, and risky adventures; comedy, tragedy, and triumph––Yamashita's colossal novel of the dawn of Asian American culture is the literary equivalent of an intricate and vibrant street mural depicting a clamorous and righteous era of protest and creativity. --Donna Seaman
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566892392
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566892391
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Heralded as a "big talent" by the Los Angeles Times, extolled by the New York Times for her "mordant wit," and praised by Newsday for "wrestl[ing] with profound philosophical and social issues" while delivering an "immensely entertaining story," Karen Tei Yamashita is one of the foremost writers of her generation. I Hotel, which took over a decade to write and research, is her magnum opus.

The author of four previous novels, Yamashita is the recipient of an American Book Award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award. A California native who has also lived in Brazil and Japan, she teaches at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where she received the Chancellor's Award for Diversity in 2009.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Micah Perks on May 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
This epic saga, 626 pages, ten novellas, ten consecutive years, twelve voices, explodes and combines the genres of the political novel, the postmodern historical novel, and the testimonio to imagine San Francisco's I-Hotel as a great, global hub of Asian American culture, art and politics during the decade of the 1970's.
Of all the novellas, I-Migrant is perhaps the most hopeful and heartbreaking, and the narrator, Felix, a Pilipino chef, one of Yamashita's most charming creations. Felix, a teller of tall tales and a character of great wit, describes a utopian world in which the workers unite around his excellent pan-Asian cuisine. "What's the story of the world?" he asks. "Food." (469). Here, a hilarious pig roasting contest begins with Samoans hunting wild boar in Salinas and ends in a huge party under a freeway pass in San Francisco attracting every leftist political faction. All is not pretty, in the world of migrants, however, and Felix himself insists that he was John Steinbeck's cook and the model for the racistly imagined character Lee in East of Eden. Felix also narrates Cesar Chavez's betrayal of Pilipino labor organizers when Chavez accepts a personal invitation from Marcos. Despite betrayals, all the fractured and fractious political organizations band together to save the I-Hotel in a two thousand-person protest; yet, wealth and institutional power win over pan-Asian cooking in the end. The novella closes with Felix, an old man, evicted from the hotel. In the brilliant last scene, he throws up in the gutter outside of the hotel, and imagines losing all the delicious food he has cooked to bring people together until he is only an "empty sack". (511). Watching the dissolution of the dream of the I-Hotel he says, "I never think it can hurt like this.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By William M. Frederick on July 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book was a Father's Day gift from my son and daughter-in-law. Thank You.

I grew up in Northern California and attended SF State from the fall of 67 until my graduation in January 1970 (B.A., Music). I now live in South Carolina and just returned from my 45th high school reunion (my first) in Cloverdale, CA. During my visit to Northern CA I visited San Francisco, twice; once with my four sisters and a brother-in-law, and again with a cousin and his son.

This book, which I was reading while traveling, and the visits to SF brought back many memories of challenging, life-changing experiences. I have always valued the impact attending SF State, in the 60s, had on my life. I was present at some of the events aptly described in this book, and while reading I was reminded of what is of value in life.

Ms. Yamashita, thank you for this book and for touching me, profoundly.

Dear Reader, this book is a great gift for yourself.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on July 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
Every group of people had their own fight for liberty. "I Hotel" is collection of novellas all tying into a greater story, focusing on the International Hotel and the yellow power movement, where Asian Americans made their bid for equal rights. A riveting story with countless entertaining people and characters, "I Hotel" is a choice read and a very highly recommended pick.
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Format: Paperback
The International Hotel (I-Hotel) was built a year after the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake in Manilatown, a community of some 20,000 Filipino immigrants on the edge of Chinatown. It was a residential hotel, which mainly housed Filipino and Chinese immigrant bachelors who worked in nearby businesses but couldn't afford homes, along with a smattering of artists and community and political activists that moved there in the 1960s. The I-Hotel sat in the shadow of the Financial District's famed Transamerica Pyramid, and as the area became more populated with gleaming office buildings the land adjacent to the hotel became more desirable while the building seemed more and more out of place. The hotel was purchased by a wealthy Chinese investor in 1968, who planned to tear down the building, evict its residents, and build a more profitable high-rise tower.

The residents of the hotel and community activists fought the developer and the city for years to prevent its demise. However, in 1977 the city's police department physically overpowered dozens of protesters and forcibly evicted its remaining residents, who were mostly elderly men who had lived there for decades, and the building was torn down immediately afterward. Ironically, the planned commercial development never took place, and a reincarnation of the I-Hotel for low- and middle-income residents was built on this site in 2005.

Karen Tei Yamashita, a professor of Literature and Creative Writing at UC Santa Cruz, uses the I-Hotel as the basis for this ambitious, sprawling, unique and successful novel about the Asian American civil rights movement, or Yellow Power movement, in San Francisco, Berkeley and other Bay Area cities in the 1960s and 1970s.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David Varillas on October 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
Karen Tei Yamashita, author of I Hotel, does an impressive job of capturing a true moment in history in a fictional narrative. Yamashita uses an Asian American lense to look at the nearly decade-long political activism in America beginning in the late 1960s. Yamashita chooses to center her novel around the "I-Hotel." The I-Hotel was a hotel in San Francisco's Chinatown and Manilatown that served as a home for Asian American workers who legally couldn't own property. It became like a hub for communal protection. In it lived elderly Filipinos, Chinese bachelors (who couldn't marry because of exclusion laws), and other international immigrants. The I-Hotel soon transformed itself into the center of the Asian American movement. Yamashita traces the steps of the activists in this movement and their achievements, illustrating how their protests brought ethnic studies to California colleges. Ultimately, the protests and the activist movement in San Francisco brought ethnic studies to universities and colleges across the nation. Yamashita captures all of this in her narrative, inviting readers to almost feel the empowerment of the Asian American activists. Yamashita achieves this through carefully drafted chapters and themes that run throughout the novel. A main topic seen extensively in her novel is that of rebirth. In addition, Yamashita explores the disjuncture between what is publicly staged and the actual experience. These two particular themes are quite powerful in Yamashita's work, and they allow her paint a better picture of San Francisco in the 1970s.
The first major idea seen resurfacing throughout the novel is that of rebirth. In "1968" Yamashita uses the voice of a young female narrator. She seems apathetic about the student protests and is having sex in the I-Hotel.
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