cover image I Hotel

I Hotel

Karen Tei Yamashita, Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $19.95 (640p) ISBN 9781566892391

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. (May)