For anyone hoping for the lighthearted source of the recent TV series, look elsewhere. Eddie Huang's "Fresh off the Boat" is the often harrowing story of a young Taiwanese immigrant trying to fit into American culture. Turned off by the standard way Asian immigrants make it in the US -- work hard, get good grades, do what your parents tell you -- Eddie dives headlong into street culture. He absorbs everything he can about hip hop, including its lingo and fashions. You can't read the book without having Urban Dictionary close to hand. Words and phrases like "shawties" (girls), "whip" (car), "for a minute" (for years) and "smash" (to have sex with) pepper every page. Though Huang is close to thirty, he writes like a rebellious fourteen-year-old street hustler.
Don't get me wrong. The book is super well-written and crazy exciting. The anecdotes-- violent, drug-addled and often misogynistic--are rich and layered. Huang's sketch of the angry dynamics of his newly-arrived family are perfect and memorable. As is his grasp of the tensions tearing at someone of a different race trying to fit in. But meseems that Huang protesteth too much. He is too anxious to sell himself as the only "real" person in a vast sea of sellouts. I felt at times that this was as much about selling seats in his restaurant as it was to exposing his life's story. Huang seems trapped by his street persona in much the same way he might have been trapped by the vapid, upwardly mobile Asians he mocks.
There is a great deal that I abhor about Huang's attitude -- his never-ending rebellion against propriety (with MFs too numerous to count) and his celebration of drugs (pot is one thing, but freebasing? Really?) -- to make his book an easy recommendation. But it gave insight into the way that at least some immigrants react to the stultifying pressures of American culture, and the desire to succeed on one's own terms.