by Elaine Hsieh Chou
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Pub Date 22 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 01 Aug 2023
PENGUIN GROUP The Penguin Press, Penguin Press
The stunning debut from Elaine Hsieh Chou, a wry and irreverent look at one woman’s coming of consciousness, after uncovering a massive coverup on the campus of her elite northeast university.
After four years of painstaking research, PhD student Ingrid Yang has hit a wall: she can’t find anything original to write about the late canonical poet, Xiao-Wen Chou. As the deadline for her dissertation nears, insomnia and stomach pain plague her, she becomes increasingly addicted to over-the-counter medicine and her only comfort is her doting fiancé Stephen Greene, a Japanese-to-English translator with whom she lives in the college town of Wittlebury, MA. Just when Ingrid is about to lose hope, she stumbles upon a curious note in the Chou archives which she desperately hopes can lead her out of her predicament.
But Ingrid’s clumsy exploits to decode the note leads to an explosive revelation—that Xiao-Wen Chou, the so-called father of Chinese American poetry, was not who he said he was. Shocked, Ingrid tries to conceal what she’s learned, but when a rival PhD candidate threatens to blow Chou’s cover, Ingrid goes to unmask him herself – and sets off a rollercoaster of events, from campus protests, to book burnings, to a movement that stinks suspiciously of white nationalism. The discovery also sends shockwaves through her personal life: when Stephen’s past relationships are revealed, Ingrid begins to doubt their relationship. As the events Ingrid instigated keep spiraling, she will have to reconcile her relationship to white men, white institutions, and white supremacy. But she will also have to confront her own identity, biases, and memories she’d rather forget in order to free herself.
An uproarious satire in the vein of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown, Disorientation is both a send-up of white liberalism and academia, and a reckoning of Asian American complicity and unspoken rage. Chou unabashedly tackles identity politics, cultural appropriation, and the intersection of race and desire, while also capturing one woman’s journey to self-awareness.