Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita

October 24, 2016
Tropic of Orange, Karen Tei Yamashita, Book Review, InTorilex
Published By: Coffee House Press on September 1, 1997
Format Read: Paperback Edition (268 pages)
Genre: Magical Realism/ Contemporary/ Academic
Series: Standalone
Source: Purchased for Boston Radical Feminists of Color Book Club
Tropic of Orange
This fiercely satirical, semifantastical novel ... features an Asian-American television news executive, Emi, and a Latino newspaper reporter, Gabriel, who are so focused on chasing stories they almost don't notice that the world is falling apart all around them. Karen Tei Yamashita's staccato prose works well to evoke the frenetic breeziness and monumental self-absorption that are central to their lives.-Janet Kaye, The New York Times Book Review.


This book was a wonderful rumination of what unites and divides us. The characters explore class, race, real or imagined borders and the violent realities of poverty.  Emi and Gabriel are a couple who chase after stories, and Buzzworm is a man who has the skills and hope to assist a homeless community. All of the characters serve a purpose and their existence and dialogue works on multiple levels. After a slow start I became completely engaged in how the characters come together to show just how hard existing can be if your not apart of mainstream society. The book covers the span of a week and change point of views between different connected characters.
"The assemblage of military might pointed at one's own people was horrific, as was the amassing of weapons and munitions by the people themselves."
The writing is politically driven and there is commentary that makes sense in the context of the LA Riots which happened around the time this book was published. The political nature of the book may turn some people off, but I enjoyed the philosophical musings thrown in between very weird events. The Tropic of Cancer is "the most northerly circle of latitude on the Earth at which the Sun can be directly overhead, " according to Wikipedia. The Tropic of Orange is a tangible representation of the borders that separate our planet's hemispheres and countries. The books' events start to unravel as the Tropic of Orange is moved, LA's highways completely shutdown, and time and space begins to bend.
"Talked about mythic realities, like everyone gets plugged into a myth and builds a reality around it. Or was it the other way around? Everybody gets plugged into a reality and builds a myth around it."
I admire this book's scope and ability to describe many different cultures, as they collide in people and occupy very different spaces.This book illustrates how important it is to develop an understanding for those we may ignore, and appreciate the value of diversity. The ending wraps up the sprawling events and characters nicely.  The magical realism in the book was used well to adapt to the events and feelings that are hard to describe in our reality. I would recommend this book to readers who don't mind a slow start into an engaging politically driven narrative filled with magical realism.


Born January 8, 1951 in Oakland, California, Karen Tei Yamashita is a Japanese American writer and Associate Professor of Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, where she teaches creative writing and Asian American literature. Her works, several of which contain elements of magic realism, include novels I Hotel (2010), Circle K Cycles (2001), Tropic of Orange (1997), Brazil-Maru (1992), and Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (1990). Tei Yamashita's novels emphasize the absolute necessity of polyglot, multicultural communities in an increasingly globalized age, even as they destabilize orthodox notions of borders and national/ethnic identity.

She has also written a number of plays, including Hannah Kusoh, Noh Bozos and O-Men which was produced by the Asian American theatre group, East West Players.

Yamashita is a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for I Hotel

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