The Brightest Star
by Gail Tsukiyama
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Pub Date 20 Jun 2023 | Archive Date 15 Aug 2023
The beloved bestselling author of The Color of Air, Women of the Silk, and The Samurai's Garden returns with this magnificent historical novel based on the life of the luminous, groundbreaking actress Anna May Wong—the first and only Asian American woman to gain movie stardom in the early days of Hollywood.
At the dawn of a new century, America is falling in love with silent movies, including young Wong Liu Tsong. The daughter of Chinese immigrants who own a laundry, Wong Liu and her older sister Lew Ying (Lulu) are taunted and bullied for their Chinese heritage. But while Lulu diligently obeys her parents and learns to speak Chinese, Wong Liu sneaks away to the local nickelodeons, buying a ticket with her lunch money and tips saved from laundry deliveries. By eleven Wong Liu is determined to become an actress and has already chosen a stage name: Anna May Wong. At sixteen, Anna May leaves high school to pursue her Hollywood dreams, defying her disapproving father and her Chinese traditional upbringing—a choice that will hold emotional and physical consequences.
After a series of nothing parts, nineteen-year-old Anna May gets her big break—and her first taste of Hollywood fame—starring opposite Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad. Yet her beauty and talent isn’t enough to overcome the racism that relegates her to supporting roles as a helpless, exotic butterfly or a vicious, murderous dragon lady while Caucasian actresses in yellowface” are given starring roles portraying Asian women. Though she suffers professionally and personally, Anna May fights to win lead roles, accept risqué parts, financially support her family, and keep her illicit love affairs hidden—even as she finds freedom and glittering stardom abroad, and receives glowing reviews across the globe.
Powerful, poignant, and imbued with Gail Tsukiyama's warmth and empathy, The Brightest Star reimagines the life of the first Asian American screen star whose legacy endures—a remarkable and inspiring woman who broke barriers and became a shining light in Hollywood history.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 83 members
I’ve always been curious about the life of Anna May Wong and saddened how erased she’s been from history books. She must have been an incredibly strong and talented woman, to have lived and worked in Hollywood during a time when Asian women were so belittled, a problem Hollywood continues to have. This novel. Though fiction, is based on her life. It’s lush, easy to settle into, and simply remarkable. While fiction, I can only imagine that the author did her research and based much on Wong’s real experience. A pleasure to read, while infuriating to observe the crap she dealt with. Read this novel, so very good.
The books I have read by Gail Tsukiyama have remained with me, not only because of the stories they tell, but because of the style in which she tells them. In The Brightest Star, Tsukiyama shares a reimagination of the life of the infamous Hollywood star, Anna May Wong. She shares the difficulties of being a Chinese/American in the United States, and particularly in Hollywood in the early 20th century. My complaint with this book is that the author is simply telling us this story. She has not written in a style that allowed me to feel the character’s life and emotions. It felt like watching a news documentary about this brave and talented woman. One disturbing event follows another as if checking off days on a calendar. I learned a tremendous amount but I also wanted to feel the emotions. Anna May Wong lived through a dark period in Hollywood and America. It is a life people should become familiar with. Even though the book dragged for me I would still recommend it to readers.