Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Red Jade, or what diversity really means

The border the protagonist crosses in Henry Chang's Red Jade is domestic and invisible but nonetheless real:
"As soon as Jack Yu caught the address, he knew. Chinatown again. He was going back to the place he'd left behind when he moved to Brooklyn's Sunset Park, just across the river but a world away."
Professional courtesy prevents me from quoting further (My copy is an uncorrected proof), but that bit is nicely stark and economical, and the book looks set to be as rich with atmosphere and incident as Chang's previous novel, Year of the Dog.

Early in Red Jade, Yu, a New York police detective who has transferred out of Chinatown's Fifth Precinct only to find himself thrown right back to investigate an apparent murder-suicide, reflects bitterly on sensitivity, diversity and the pernicious misuses to which "people in command" put these once admirable concepts. As it happens, Chang's books are salutary lessons in what diversity was before the corporate sensitivity peddlers took the word over for that brief, embarrassing period in the 1990s.

The inhabitants of Yu's Chinatown have quite enough on their minds without worrying all the time about the city's other ethnic groups. Sure, there are racially tinged confrontations with whites and blacks; this is New York, after all.

But tension exists as well between longtime Chinatown residents and Fukienese newcomers. And in one marvelous observation, Yu attributes the new, slick decor of Chinese restaurants, so unlike the rambling old places of his youth, to Hong Kong influence.

Now, that's real diversity.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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23 Comments:

Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Don't know anything about him: great cover, though!

'Year of the Dragon' is a great, albeit trashy, film set in New York's Chinatown district
Mickey Rourke had a ball dyeing his hair, as his mood, or the scene required in this one
(almost as frequently as he changed Irish accents in 'A Prayer For The Dying')

And beautiful former model leading lady, Ariane, gives a passable imitation of a department store mannequin as 'the love interest'.

Oliver Stone must have had a blast writing the dialogue

August 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's one thing about Chang's books: His is a Chinatown where the stars are all Chinese American. The Mickey Rourkes of the world don't get top billing.

Chang grew up in New York's Chinatown and still lives there, so I have to figure he knows what he's talking about.

August 17, 2010  
Anonymous Doug Riddle said...

I'm confused....

The Mickey Rourke movie Year of the Dragon was from a novel by Robert Daley. And Chang's previous novel was Year of the Dog.....Not sure of the connection between the two

August 17, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

...and, to confuse things even more, Al Stewart had a hit with 'Year of the Cat'
(a guilty pleasure of mine)

August 17, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

TCK, admit it, you just love the sax solo in the middle of that song (as do I).

August 18, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

love that, love the corny, or perhaps 'inscrutable', lyrics!

Just finished 'The Zebra-Striped Hearse'.
Is this the most convoluted crime novel plot I've ever read, I ask myself?
"oh what a tangled web he weaved...."

August 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Year of the Cat" makes me wince a bit, I must admit. Whether corny or "inscrutable," those lyrics have a connection to crime movies and indirectly to crime fiction.

Something about "morning from a Bogart movie" has always grated on my nerves, though. Is morning the first time of day you think of when you think of Bogart movies? Or am I coarsely failing to appreciate Al Stewart's impressionistic lyrical flair?

August 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, I should probably have said 'unscrutinised', instead of 'inscrutable', but the latter is so much more apt, in the context of thos 'Oriental' topic.
I've more usually 'hummed' or 'da-da-dum'd.....the Year of the Cat', rather than bothered to find out fuller lyrics to sing along to, but I gotta admit the phrase you offer does fit nicely into my introductory section 'da-da-dums'

August 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think that's the song's first line:

"On a morning from a Bogart movie."

August 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and the verse also includes the line:

"She goes strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre contemplating a crime." So he stuck with his theme for a couple of lines, at least.

August 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Well, he certainly has great taste in references
'M' is one of my All-Time Top 10 films

August 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Though I don't think a furtive child killer is quite the image he wants to conjure up.

August 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

although given that its one of the most iconic images in all of cinema perhaps he was prepared to overlook its subject matter

August 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, until someone prepares a paper on "Al Stewart: Sources and Studies," I'll prefer to think he came up with Peter Lorre by association with Bogart. Or maybe that's just bcause the song's cursed catchiness hooked me probably before I had heard of "M."

August 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Offhand, though, I don't recall him strolling the crowd contemplating a crime, in either 'The Maltese Falcon'or 'Casablanca' , although Al might have been thinking of a crowded room scene in the former, even if he was doing more shuffling than strolling in that one.

Peter, if you haven't seen it, you really owe it to yourself to check out 'M', despite its distasteful main character.

And I'm still keeping my eyes peeled to try and see the Joseph Losey remake, starring David Wayne: I can't imagine it coming close to the Lang Masterpiece, but Losey made some pretty decent crime movies in his time

August 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Losey also made one of the most embarrassingly awful movies ever, Modesty Blaise. But what really gets me about Losey is probably not at all his fault, but rather that of the folks who designed the box for the video of of a movie he made of Don Giovanni. Across the top, the two names in equally large and prominent letters, the box reads: "MOZART/LOSEY." At least Losey was modest enough to let Mozart's name go first.

August 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I actually have that Don Giovanni DVD, but haven't gotten around to watching it yet(!!!)
I wonder how much input he had into the DVD/video box-cover?
Do you think he demanded 'LOSEY/MOZART'? and had to settle for playing second fiddle?

Anyway, keep an eye out for 'The Prowler'
(I don't think you'll be disappointed)

I don't think I've ever seen 'Modesty Blaise'

August 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hope Losey at least gave Mozart a share of the video royalties.

Losey died in 1984, so his life barely overlapped the videotape era. In any case, I doubt he had anything to do with the box. But the justaposition is so ludicrous that I will always associate his name with it, fairly or not.

The "Modesty Blaise" movie is shite. Even potted biographies of Losey online call it a muddle.

August 19, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I liked Chang's first book and this post sparks interest in reading the next books in the series.

But what "corporate sensitivity peddlars'" brief period in the 90s?
What is this in reference to?

August 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It refers to the craze for "diversity training" among companies in the 1990s, a worthwhile aim but a largely silly exercise that I expect did more for CEOs' consciences and mid-level managers MBO bonuses than it did for the brotherhood of man or the smooth functioning of companies.

August 29, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Really? It did nothing? That's too bad. It might be important that it exists just to be a deterrant against insensitivity, as a reminder, perhaps not as a satisfactory way to go about diversity or to educate people.

There is a lot of bigotry at workplaces today. I hear about it from all over, just from friends and acquaintances, then added in what manages to get in the media.

So what should be done?

August 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not saying it did nothing, nor am I addressing the substance of the problem. I am saying that I am skeptical of top-down solutions, particularly from corporations.

August 29, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I see the point but to have nothing might be worse; it doesn't let the employees know what kind of behavior or language simply is not acceptable.

I don't know what the solution is to this other than having a diverse, friendly workplace where people can bring up problems and be heard.

August 29, 2010  

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