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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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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.
*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
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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".
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book has a lot of interesting information, but an over abundance of detail and a lack of over-arching narratives were big drawbacks for me.Published 21 days ago by Amazon Customer
Absolutely great read! Enjoyed the history and all the research the author did to put this magnificent book together. Didn't want it to end. Read morePublished 2 months ago by none
Full of interesting background concerning the legendary detective who inspired the creation of the Charlie Chan character in books & films.Published 2 months ago by J. Mandeville
A very pleasant read, a great way to relax one's mind....The author makes you appreciate how the lives of Biggers, Chang (the real life Honolulu cop), and Warner Oland (the reel... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Andrew Maile
I listened to the author on NPR, and promptly forgot about him. Then, much later, remembered, and glad I did. Terrific book, bags of fun, and very informative.Published 4 months ago by D. J. Bershaw
Very interesting and informative of late 19th and early 20th century HawaiiPublished 8 months ago by David O.
Fascinating book about a whole host of players surrounding the Chinese detective. The inspiration (Chang Apana), the author (Earl Biggers), the actor (Warner Oland), and the... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Stewart Bushman
Really enjoyed this book. I’m a big fan of the Charlie Chan books (not so much the movies) but there’s a very complicated background of racism, anti-Chinese sentiment, American... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Marla