Twenty-nine-year-old PhD student Ingrid Yang is desperate to finish her dissertation on the late canonical poet Xiao-Wen Chou and never read about “Chinese-y” things again. But after four years of grueling research, she has nothing but anxiety and stomach pain to show for her efforts. When she accidentally stumbles upon a strange and curious note in the Chou archives, she convinces herself it’s her ticket out of academic hell.
But Ingrid’s in much deeper than she thinks. Her clumsy exploits to unravel the note’s message lead to an explosive discovery, one that upends her entire life and the lives of those around her. With her trusty friend Eunice Kim by her side and her rival Vivian Vo hot on her tail, together they set off a roller coaster of mishaps and misadventures, from campus protests and OTC drug hallucinations, to book burnings and a movement that stinks of “Yellow Peril” propaganda.
In the aftermath, nothing looks quite the same to Ingrid—including her gentle and doting fiancé, Stephen Greene. When he embarks on a book tour with the “super kawaii” Japanese author he’s translated, doubts and insecurities creep in. At the same time, she finds herself drawn to the cool and aloof Alex Kim (even though she swears he’s not her type). As the events Ingrid instigated keep spiraling, she’ll have to confront her sticky relationship to white men and white institutions—and, most of all, herself.
For readers of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown, this uproarious and bighearted satire is a blistering send-up of white supremacy in academia and a profound reckoning of individual complicity and unspoken rage. In this electrifying debut novel from a provocative new voice, Chou asks who gets to tell our stories—and how the story changes when we finally tell it ourselves.
Elaine Hsieh Chou is a Taiwanese American writer from California. A 2017 Rona Jaffe Graduate Fellow at NYU and a 2021 NYSCA/NYFA Fellow, her short fiction appears in The Normal School, Black Warrior Review, Guernica, Tin House Online and Ploughshares.
Her debut novel DISORIENTATION comes out from Penguin Press (US) and Picador (UK) on March 22, 2022.