cover image American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods

American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods

Bonnie Tsui, . . Free Press, $25 (262pp) ISBN 978-1-4165-5723-4

Tsui (She Went to the Field ) offers a meandering “personal geography” of the Chinatowns in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Honolulu and Las Vegas. Straining to be a travelogue, sociological snapshot and history of Tsui's own family's immigrant experience, the account is repetitious and perfunctory. The author doesn't spend sufficient time on her subjects—including an Asian studies professor born in San Francisco's Chinatown, or the ethnic Chinese artist originally from Vietnam who made his way to Honolulu's Chinatown via Indonesia—to clinch the reader's interest or to compose a compelling narrative of the neighborhoods. She maintains that she never feels more at home than when visiting an American Chinatown, but her limited insights may lead readers to feel like the tourists she disparages, the ones who visit Chinatown for an afternoon but fail to look beyond its faded facades and kitschy gift shops. Her treatment strikes its most superficial chord when she reaches the banal conclusion that American Chinatowns represent “heartland Asian America.” (Aug.)