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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Sad, Sexy, Funny
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...
Published on May 28, 2010 by Micah Perks

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Could not Complete
Having grown up in San Francisco during that era, I was drawn to the I Hotel book, as the subject matter was big news at the time. I bought the book thinking it would provide more insights or anecdotes to the event that many of us were only capturing from the media, and to relive that era to get a better understanding in my current day. However, I gave up halfway through...
Published 8 months ago by Robert S Hsu


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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Sad, Sexy, Funny, May 28, 2010
This review is from: I Hotel (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." (511)
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice presides over Yamashita's ninth novella, Ai Hotel, which contains seven chapters, each named for a couple, each detailing, in some way, a tragic love. This novella classically links sex with death: there are several female suicides, Hades-like basements and pantries, a death in a hospital and a death in Vietnam. With this novella, Yamashita adds a new dimension to her oeuvre; although the novella contains her signature sensual descriptions of eating and reading, it also contains her most sexually explicit prose to date. The rhythm of the piece is Jazz inspired, and although no love affair ends happily, there is a lot of "Uun uun, ahh ahh ahh" (581) before death intervenes.
Yamashita's final novella, 1977: I-Hotel, her coda, written completely in first person plural, begins with the last radio transmission from the I-Hotel during the conflict between the police and protesters. This chapter honors those who recorded, through sound and video, the brutal eviction of the elderly tenants and the beating of protesters by police. It is perhaps also a celebration of the larger project of giving voice to the people as well as a re-assertion of the I-Hotel as a center for art and culture of the Asian American protest movement. As the collective narrator asserts, "The center of our great uproar was a gigantic organic voice box of our own making; it was our I-Hotel." (603). The second chapter of the last novella is a theorizing of the idea of hotel in the context of urban spaces as a temporary home for those participating in global migrations. The third chapter is a bitter postscript to the politics of the movement. Whereas earlier in the novel, we have seen the way in which the final protest brought the many political factions together; in this chapter we are told that after the protesters are defeated by the police, they turn on each other. While the police watch and laugh, the protesters "ridiculously" and "in frustration" (618) beat each other bloody. The fourth and final chapter is narrated by the "waves of yellow people splashed against American shores." (624) Here, we see the traditional image of Asian American immigrants--passive, hard working, watching the I-Hotel struggle but not wanting to get involved. Ironically, these passive watchers go out to a restaurant to eat rather than protest, and end up in the crossfire of "The Joe boys," a gang on "tong business" (626). The last image of the book is of these passive bystanders running away, invisible to the rest of the world, finally falling into "restless slumber". (626).
The I-Hotel is Professor Yamashita's opus. This 626 page book builds on and coalesces many of her previous obsessions, multiple perspectives, the intercessions of politics, art and culture, global flows, yet as playful as it often is, it is also finally an angry, brilliant call to action, to wake us from our "restless slumber."
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, July 15, 2010
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This review is from: I Hotel (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
5.0 out of 5 stars A choice read and a very highly recommended pick, July 16, 2010
This review is from: I Hotel (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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An ambitious, sprawling and unique novel about the Asian American civil rights movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, November 18, 2010
This review is from: I Hotel (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. The book is divided into 10 novellas, and each revolves around mostly fictional characters who are deeply involved in the burgeoning movement, including student protests at San Francisco State and UC Berkeley, the Native American takeover of Alcatraz Island, the efforts of farm workers to earn a decent wage and working conditions, and, of course, the unsuccessful efforts to save the I-Hotel. Yamashita uses a variety of tools to tell these stories, including poetry, portraits, graphic art, and government manuscripts.

Most of these novellas were very well done, and the book's ending was superb. Throughout the book I felt as if I was an observer being pulled along, sometimes breathlessly, from one story and one locale to another, in a whirlwind series of historical and personal narratives by a persistent and passionate guide. At the book's end I was somewhat fatigued, a bit overwhelmed, but ultimately grateful for the journey and what I learned along the way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intimidating? Yes. Worth the read? Yes, Yes., October 8, 2012
This review is from: I Hotel (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. While having sex in the hotel she is screaming, "It's time now, baby! Oh yes. The Chinese people have stood up! The Chinese people have stood up" (57). The voice of the narrator seems to be undermining the seriousness of the protests by making a crude sexual joke. However, Yamashita injects a bit of importance in here. The act of having sex is the means through which new life is produced. Thus, by connecting the sexual act with the protests, Yamashita is suggesting that new life is being produced by these protests. In addition, at the end of "1971," the characters Gerald and Sen throw out a bathroom tub called the "iron ox" outside of the window of a building. They decide to restructure the building, which was an old political hub, and make a garden. Yamashita revisits the notion of rebirth here. Gerald and Sen are no longer angry and mad but rather carefree. They are high in this scene, and letting go of the old "iron ox," a symbol of the old establishment, demonstrating how they are throwing out the old and bringing in the new.
The second theme that is very powerful in I Hotel is the differences in staging vs. experiencing. In other words, there is a disjuncture between the "map" and the "territory," where the map is what is publicly staged and the territory is reality. For example, Paul's reality is shoved in his face when finds out that his mother and Chen had had a relationship before she met his father. Paul thought that his story was different. Little did he know that what he thought to be his reality was only a staged reality. His true story and true territory is falling apart. In another instance, Paul tries to stage an Asian American writer, Okada, as the forefather of Asian American literature. However, once he begins to explore Okada's experiences before death, he discovers that what he is portraying Okada as excludes the truth of his struggles. Lastly, Yamashita effectively highlights this disjuncture when she illustrates Edmund's death. The whole chapter with that scene is seen from of a camera lense. This narrative approach immediately distances the reader from the emotional space. The emotional scene is only described as "Edmund's broken glasses can be seen through the viewer... (sound) of gasping and labored breathing" (90). There is no emotional connection with Edmund's death in his death scene. This only highlights that what is publicly staged or portrayed can be so distant from the truth.
Yamashita's novel can be quite intimidating to approach. The chapters seem endless and the voices of the narrator never seem to stop changing. The 600 page novel, however, can become quite engaging. Yamashita's techniques just become gripping. I am very much a fan of a strong storyline. I Hotel challenged my patience, but I ended up enjoying the novel. Although there are several plots and the thread that connects all the chapters is very thin, this book is one of the most memorable novels I've read. When one completes this novel, there is just a lot to think about, and ultimately, that's Yamashita's purpose in this novel: to give the reader the tools to find fragments and pieces of one's history and to have him think about it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Complex and Interesting Read, October 7, 2012
This review is from: I Hotel (Paperback)
Through an extensive series of interviews and years of research, Karen Tei Yamashita assumes an unconventional perspective of the 1960's and 1970's Civil Rights Movement in her novel I Hotel. Yamashita departs from the traditional teaching of the civil rights movement as a unified and ideological movement for African American equality by acknowledging the complex and chaotic interior of the many organizations that formed the civil rights movement. Centering her collection of interrelated novellas on the International Hotel, a hotel that served as a permanent home for many Asian Americans during the period, Yamashita builds an architecturally sound novel that addresses the issues of perspective and identity that faced many of its tenants.
Perspective is perhaps the most prominent of the aforementioned themes as it is the foundation of Yamashita's work. The first novella, "Eye Hotel", deals heavily with this issue. The narrator in this novella, as is characteristic of Yamashita's style in this novel, shifts constantly. One particularly poignant narrator is a sarcastic woman commenting on the 1968 TWLF protest while in the process of love making. Her euphemistic use of the revolutionary phrase "the Chinese people have stood up" (57) conveys an often overlooked sentiment of apathy. Forcing the protest into the background of the narration emphasizes the nagging presence of revolution in the lives of non-participants. Yamashita, thus, highlights the importance of mundane activities amidst revolution. This apathetic perspective is one of the rare examples of a female narrator in this novel. In fact, the perspective of women is often absent in Yamashita's depiction of the movements. Rather, the motivations of women are implied through their actions as observed by others. Female characters are either hyper-sexualized, like poet, singer, and dancer Sandy Hu, or seen as the embodiment of a pure, revolutionary ideals, as is the case with Olivia Wang. These one dimensional characters ultimately lead to the downfall of the male revolutionaries. Yamashita suggests that despite the apparent involvement of the women in the movement, they are merely used to fulfill the political and sexual needs of the men. The many represented perspectives create a sense of disunity that questions the pragmatism of the revolutionary ideals and methods.
Yamashita continues her trend of questioning the perceived solidarity through her treatment of the issue of identity. Specifically, Yamashita presents Mo Akagi, who Richard Aoki, as an enigma. Although his background mirrors many of the Asian Americans of the time, he is unique in that he is a member of the Black Panther Party. As the narrator states, "underneath he's a Panther, but if necessary, he's the Asian American Community" (210). The divisive nature of the movement forces Akagi to assume a dual identity. While Akagi's identity is presented as fact, Gerald Li's identity is uncertain. He finds himself having a friendly and engaging conversation with the president of San Francisco University at one moment and shouting insults at him in the next. Revolutionary politics causes a division between two otherwise agreeable individuals. Gerald also has two conflicting identities. His non-political identity is heavily invested in his music and art while his political identity is aggressively communist. Underlying this conflict is the idea that "the personal must be put aside for the political" (313). Blindly followed, this idea leaves a dying Olivia Wang questioning her commitment to the movement. Her death is ultimately insignificant to the movement. This idea of being completely engrossed in the movement causes a grieving Ben San Pablo to doubt his belief in Marxist ideals.
Having created a labyrinth of divisions and conflicts on the personal, national, and international levels, Yamashita refocuses her novel on the concrete structure for which it was named. Ending her story in the past tense, Yamashita relieves the reader of the burden created by this series of desolate tales by emphasizing the nostalgia of its former inhabitants in remembering the I Hotel.
Although it is at times difficult to see the connections between the details given, I Hotel is filled with invaluable insight into the complex nature of the Civil Rights movement making it an interesting read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I wish this book had won the National Book Award instead of just being a finalist., June 21, 2013
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This review is from: I Hotel (Paperback)
Wow. What an ambitious and massive and mind-altering work. It wasn't an easy book to read, and there were moments I wasn't sure she was going to pull it all together, even though I'd already decided I was along for the whole ride and was going to give her a shot. Boy, did she pull it together. I am sure this book means different things to different readers, but for me it became "about" the elderly Filipino migrant workers--the ones Yamashita mentions in her author's note--who, because of immigration quotas, racism, and available labor, really have no one but one another and no home but the one they're being forced from. But the myriad tiny side stories are so often and so deeply affecting. I know it is a heavy book, but I wish I could put it in everybody's hands and invite them to think closely about what it means to be American.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I Hotel Review, October 7, 2012
I Hotel was written by Karen tei Yamashita who is a Japanese American. I Hotel deals with the racial and cultural problems that many of the minorities in the U.S (mainly San Francisco) were facing in the 1970's from the time the I Hotel was built till it was knocked down. The I Hotel was where migrant workers could stay, but only male Chinese workers. Women were not allowed into the United States at this time because of the Chines Exclusion Act. The Chinese women were thought of as only prostitutes at this time. The Novel takes place during the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. What makes this novel unique is that it does not just deal with Civil Rights from the African American stand point, but mainly from the Asian American stand point. One of the main focuses of the novel is the riots and protests outside San Francisco State University. These protest occurred because the minority students wanted ethnic studies to be created at the university.
The book contains 10 novellas that each deal with a certain year from when the I-Hotel was built in 1968 until the fall of the I-Hotel in 1977. There are two main themes that run throughout the book which are, bridging the gap through the generations and distinguishing between what is real and fake. " Chen had realized that here would be no outlet for his own poetry and that like his own teacher before him, his writing was out of touch with the people....who were the people? They were the young people." One of the main purposes was to try to bridge the gap between the two generations by literature. After the death of one of Chen's prodigy's who he thought would be the one to bridge the gap there was the question of who would be the one to bridge the gap between generations now. Since the older generation's writing was out of style for the younger generation there was now no clear answer to how the gap would be closed. This theme is seen throughout the book especially when the President of the school is speaking because he thinks he is doing a good job of getting his point across to the students, but in reality they aren't listening to him. The theme of what is real is fake is seen throughout the book from the split lizard to the real and fake Black Whirlwind. This has deeper meaning though. It was representing the social movements and the splits in them. "Always trying to be rebels, but ultimately you and your kind are a bunch of bourgeois intellectuals patronized by the capitalist." This shows how the people are trying to be something that they are really not, and if you pay careful attention then you can see what type of people that they really are.
Personally I enjoyed the book because of the historical background behind it. The historical context helps make the read a little bit easier. One of my critiques is that she sometimes provides too many unnecessary details that can take your focus away from the topic at hand. If you are able to get past that then it makes the read much easier and much more interesting. Also I would recommend in order for you to understand the book better is to not let the size of the book intimidate you and to look for a deeper meaning within her writing. Because something that seems so simple could end up having a very powerful meaning because she does a lot of play on language.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Could not Complete, May 15, 2014
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Robert S Hsu (Silver Spring, Maryland United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: I Hotel (Paperback)
Having grown up in San Francisco during that era, I was drawn to the I Hotel book, as the subject matter was big news at the time. I bought the book thinking it would provide more insights or anecdotes to the event that many of us were only capturing from the media, and to relive that era to get a better understanding in my current day. However, I gave up halfway through the book as it was a struggle trying to maintain interest up to that point. Needless to say, I was very disappointed and wished I did not waste my time nor money with this book. I'm sorry for this review, but this is only one of two books that I failed to complete in my reading history.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I Hotel Review, January 1, 2014
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Patricia in Marin (Mill Valley, CA, US) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: I Hotel (Paperback)
I was so disappointed because I was supposed to read this for my book club and can't remember when I literally could not get through the first chapter of a book I disliked it so much. I live in San Francisco, travel a great deal internationally and was really looking forward to this, based on what I'd heard - what a waste of money! Thank goodness I didn't pay full price but still made me sorry I don't go to the library like most of my friends!

We haven't had our meeting for this book yet (this month) but I've spoken / heard from at least three other members who had the same experience - it's going to be interesting "reviewing" a highly acclaimed book no one could manage to read.
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I Hotel
I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita (Paperback - June 1, 2010)
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