Sep 09 2016

Fresh Off The Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang

I’m a fan of the charming ABC comedy of the same name, which was how I first heard of this memoir, and was taken aback to discover that Eddie Huang himself had very negative opinions of the show. But then I read this book, and I get it. Mr Huang had an abusive childhood, and to see that elided for the prime time palate can be hard to stomach. Which, I believe, doesn’t detract from the value of the TV show at all, as it’s a necessary showcase for Asian-American culture, even if it isn’t a strict interpretation of Mr Huang’s book. Personally, I feel that content creators should take their cue from Alan Moore upon selling their rights for production in other mediums: it’s not your baby any more, so you shouldn’t feel like it’s a reflection on your worth even if it comes out atrocious or, in the case of Fresh Off The Boat, terrific but wildly inaccurate. Besides, if it weren’t for the show, I would never have thought to pick up the memoir, particularly when needing a humorous read after some of the heavy stuff I’ve been ingesting recently.

And I suppose I could have been bitter at how misled I was, not only by the show, but by all the reviews stating that this was a funny book. It’s not. Not unless you think it’s hilarious that an Asian dude becomes a black stereotype because he’s so conflicted about his own cultural identity. Don’t get me wrong: I really did appreciate the book as a considered, clear-eyed evaluation of Eddie Huang’s life by the man himself, but it wasn’t funny. Or was funny in the way The Big Bang Theory is funny where you’re not laughing with the geeks, you’re laughing at them (I hate TBBT, btw, it’s awful and minstrelsy.)

Lack of hilarity aside, this was a well-written book about a shitty but not atypical immigrant Taiwanese childhood. Mr Huang is unafraid to examine his life and choices, so while I wouldn’t have made the same decisions he did, it was easy to understand his reasons. He carries a lot of anger at the world, which isn’t a bad thing either: anger can drive you to agitate for positive change, which it often feels that Mr Huang does. The only part I found really tiresome was his insistence on being a gatekeeper. It would be nice if he extended that same examination he gives to his own and his family’s motivations to others, or at the very least tried to empathize more instead of, at best, condescending to people who share his interests but aren’t as “hardcore” as he is. One day, I suppose, he’ll learn that being cool doesn’t come at the expense of others.

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