Book looks at Charlie Chan through insightful Chinese perspective
Charlie Chan, the inscrutable Chinese detective of fiction and film, is often viewed today as a quaint, embarrassing relic of a time when America not only tolerated but embraced institutional racism in popular entertainment.
Chan, who spoke in pidgin English, spouted Oriental homilies and was portrayed in scores of Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s by Westerners Warner Oland and Sidney Toler in full, squinty-eyed caricature, was an unfortunately simplistic stereotype.
But for scholar and literary sleuth Yunte Huang, Chan represents so much more – historically, sociologically and personally. In his exhaustively researched and highly entertaining new book, “Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective” (W.W. Norton & Company, $26.95), Huang constructs a fascinating cultural survey that takes in the history of Chinese immigration to America; the real-life Hawaii detective on which the character is based; the Harvard-educated author who turned Chan into an iconic, boilerplate gumshoe, and a personal history of a bright Chinese immigrant student encountering racism and struggling to find a rightful place in his adopted homeland.
Drawing on hundreds of cinematic, literary and biographical sources, in English and his native Chinese, Huang deftly weaves together the stories of the real-life Chinese detective – the legendary, diminutive Hawaiian crime-buster Chang Apana – with the literary offspring created by American author Earl Derr Biggers.
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