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The fictional Chinese-American detective and his real-life model anchor this enjoyable if unfocused meditation on the cultural construction of race. English prof Huang (Transpacific Imaginations) recounts the life of Chang Apana, a Chinese immigrant police detective in Honolulu who inspired mystery writer Earl Derr Biggers to create the Confucian sleuth Chan, who appeared in six novels and more than 40 movies (usually played by white actors). Apana is a colorful figure, complete with cowboy hat and bullwhip, but both he and his connection to the Chan character, whom he little resembled, are marginal to the story Huang wants to tell about racial attitudes and tensions in early 20th-century America. (Apana is a passive observer, for example, in the account of an explosive Hawaiian interracial rape case.) More convincing is Huang's nuanced analysis of Chan and his mincing gait, ingratiating smile, pidgin English, and fortune cookie aphorisms. Disputing writers who consider him a demeaning stereotype, Huang discerns behind Chan's exoticism a positive and formidable figure who embodies the "creative genius" of American "cultural miscegenation." Beyond the extraneous biography and historicizing, Huang presents an absorbing study of art taking on a life of its own. Photos. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
This engaging study of the problematic Charlie Chan should establish him as an important figure in US cultural history. Huang's aim is "to demonstrate that Charlie Chan, America's most identifiable Chinaman, epitomizes both the racist heritage and the creative genius of this nation's culture." To accomplish this, Huang (English, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) deftly interweaves several discrete, overlapping narratives. The dominant history is that of the rough-and-tumble adventures of a real-life Cantonese detective, Chang Apana, working in Honolulu in the first half of the 20th century. Closely intertwined is the story of the creator of Charlie Chan, Earl Derr Biggers, whose six Charlie Chan mysteries provide a fictional double to Apana. The novels lead to another narrative--some 47 Charlie Chan films along with a plethora of spin-offs on television and in other media. And Huang adds his own story of his long-term fascination with Charlie Chan, thus investigating a broad swath of the US's racial heritage up to the present. Huang's immigrant experiences afford him a convincing vantage on Charlie Chan's "tortured legacy," which "at once endears and offends millions." Adroitly written and steeped in references both scholarly and popular, this is a masterful study. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. T. Loe SUNY Oswego
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Huang (English, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Transpacific Imaginations) here gives us a fascinating examination of Charlie Chan that is many books in one. He begins with a study of Chang Apana (1871-1933), the real detective on whom Charlie Chan was based. Apana, who was born in Hawaii and lived in China from age three to ten, policed Honolulu's Chinatown after previous posts as a cowboy and as an officer for the Humane Society. Huang then turns to Earl Derr Biggers, a Harvard graduate and writer who created the fictitious Chinese American detective Chan. Biggers himself proves to be equally intriguing. Huang also examines the cultural phenomenon of Charlie Chan in films and other media, exploring the detective's place in America's cultural memory. Huang believes there are many layers to the meaning of Biggers's creation: Chan cannot be easily dismissed simply as a product of American racism. Huang's personal reflections are welcome interludes in this most compelling work. VERDICT This book has broad appeal to readers interested in film history, ethnic and cultural studies, literary biography, and pop culture. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Stacy Russo, Chapman Univ. Libs., Orange, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*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!'--Fletcher, Connie Copyright 2010 Booklist