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Book Review :: Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou

Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Disorientation, Elaine Hsieh Chou’s first novel, Ingrid Wang is in the eighth year of her doctoral work, and she is largely ignoring her dissertation on Xiao-Wen Chou, a canonical Chinese American poet. She is almost thirty, engaged to be married, and her department chair has hinted that she could take over his position if she can simply finish her degree. Her life appears to be going well, but Chou makes it clear in her novel that appearances are never what they seem. Ingrid makes a discovery that leads her into an existential crisis where she has to face her identity as a Taiwanese American in the very white Northeast, her engagement to Stephen—who translated a Japanese author’s autofiction, even though he doesn’t speak Japanese—and who she hopes to become. Chou satirizes a variety of topics in her novel—academia, identity politics, the far right, the debate over free speech and what some call cancel culture—and, at times, that satire can simultaneously feel too broad and too spot on; however, her notes at the end of the novel remind readers that everything in her work has too much basis in the world for us to ignore her critiques and questions.

Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou. Penguin, March 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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