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Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita
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Tropic of Orange

by Karen Tei Yamashita

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Showing 5 of 5
Kaleidoscopic, Even in its most most hallucinatory digression, completely true and revelatory. ( )
  Lemeritus | Mar 29, 2019 |
Recently re-read this book to refresh my memory while advising a student thesis, and I loved it on a second read. Yamashita's shifting narrative perspectives capture the multivocality and complexity of the border and migrant life in Los Angeles. The book beautifully mixes humor, rage, and tragedy. Long live Buzzworm. ( )
  jalbacutler | Feb 15, 2019 |
I have to be honest. I was frustrated while I was reading this book because I really had no idea what was going on. I knew somehow it all made sense, and I constantly told myself that, but up until the ending of the book, I asked myself: "What the heck did I just read?" Not until after my California Fiction class discussed this book did it really start to make sense. Not perfect sense, but I realized how it made sense. From the beginning of this novel, an insignificant little orange becomes the most fantastical, most magical thing the characters ever known. It actually becomes the most hated fruit in the book (and you'll see why when you read it), but it represents more than what it seems. Everything in this book is more than it seems, that's why you must read it with an open mind.

To perhaps assist anyone who is still trying to figure out what's going on, an invisible, (yet visible to some characters) line starts moving from the South (Mexico) to the North (specifically Los Angeles in Southern California). So basically, the line, that is usually an arbitrary line on a map that represents what the borders of an area are, actually "comes to life" as it physically moves the geography. Once you start to realize that, many other things start to make sense. Think about the gangs that Buzzworm talks about. They take over certain areas of the urban area, but what do they really "own"? Is this really a novel about California, or does this book comment on other nationalities as well? Remember the Japanese American reporter Emi? Remember Bobby who came from Singapore? Remember Gabriel who came from Mexico? And Rafaela who takes care of his house in Mexico?

The amazing thing about this book is the way it is broken up into parts. The are seven chapters in the novel each representing the seven main characters. There are seven chapters for each of the seven days. Each character is unique and fun to read about. I like the way each character has his or her own individual voice, especially Bobby who is actually told in third person point of view like the rest of the characters except for Gabriel (who I will get to later). Bobby's chapter is always written in colloquial language to show the complexity of his character. Quoted directly from the book, Bobby is a "Chinese man from Singapore with a Vietnam name speaking like a Mexican living in Koreatown." Now how cool is that? I found myself looking forward to Bobby's chapter everyday, but the other characters were interesting to read about too. Like the Japanese American Manzanar Murakami who conducts invisible music from traffic overpasses, but is the music really invisible? Or the highly outspoken Emi who constantly makes politically incorrect statements. And let's not forget Gabriel who is the only character told from first person point of view. Now why's that? Hmm, who knows? But let me suggest this: read the short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Think about it and look into Arcangel's character.

Now what's the point of combining these various unique characters? Why did Yamashita choose them specifically? Each one adds a little of their culture to the big picture. What's the significance of the maps? They are a physical representation of what humans have created. If you travel to the border of any region, is there a real line that marks the border? No. So what do you think Yamashita is trying to say?

Now I apologize if I've said too much and you still haven't read the book, but if you have and this helped you, I'm glad. If you haven't read it and this review got you stoked to read the book, great! If you understand everything I've written, but you're still trying to really make sense of the book. Well, then good luck! ( )
  Hantsuki | May 6, 2011 |
OK. So. Look.

This is one of those books that I should, according to all my usual thyme and reason, enjoy. It possesses just enough magical realism to meet my needs (because I read primarily for escapism), engaging character voices, and initially presents itself as if I'm going to need to pick out the meaning and undercurrents and themes -- the whats, whys, and wherefores of what's going on -- as if it's *meaty*. I enjoy disjointed story lines (because jigsaw puzzles are my friends) and unreliable narrators and weirdness.

What I *require* is very simple--I can't stand to be preached at. Yamashita? She kinda preaches. She is as subtle as a tommy gun. Arcangel, one of the characters narrating his part of the story, spells it out in blunt poetry that I don't even have to try to tease apart. That's boring.

I adore some of the imagery, I'm confused by some of the minor plot lines (baby parts? what? so?), and the ending doesn't quite deliver the punch that I think she means for it to. Which is kind of a shame.

But the whole apocalyptic overtones meant I spent some time brushing up on apocalypses in general, and that's never a bad thing.

We're all gonna die! ( )
  qitten | Dec 17, 2009 |
The plot of Tropic of Orange centers around a highway accident that becomes a homeless encampment as people are forced to leave their cars on a mile-stretch in between two burning semis, and an orange tied to the Tropic of Orange that pulls that latitudinal line northward to L.A. I'm going to devolve into a fourth grade book review (as do most of the reviewers quoted on the book jacket) in saying that the themes of the book are immigration, race, class, a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic society. And how. It's not subtle, this book.

I wish more of Tropic of Orange was about Emi - she's funny and her plot line is more compelling than the conspiracy of transplant baby parts and an ancient wrestler who pulls trucks around with his love handles. The parts of the book without her take themselves too seriously - they believe their own poetry and their own magical realism. ( )
  bexaplex | Apr 4, 2007 |
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"Irreverently juggling magical realism, film noir, hip hop, and chicanismo, Karen Yamashita presents an L.A. where the homeless, gangsters, infant organ entrepreneurs, and Hollywood collide on a stretch of highway struck by disaster. The Harbor Freeway crisis becomes the apex of events - caused by an orange, which has been brought to L.A. from just north of Mazatlan, dragging with it the Tropic of Cancer." "Rafaela, caretaking Gabriel's getaway home in Mexico, discovers a dealer of human body parts and flees north, joining a performer/laborer named Arcangel. Meanwhile, Gabriel, a news reporter in L.A., has been following leads in which seemingly unrelated events mysteriously unite as the homeless take up residence in abandoned Mercedes, lowriders, and Cads, and an aged Asian American sansei conducts symphonies from a freeway overpass." "Emi, T.V. executive and Gabriel's girlfriend, along with Buzzworm, his connection to the streets, get caught in the middle of this mounting wildfire just as the cast of characters - diverse as the city itself - assembles for the final event. Tropic of Orange is an apocalypse of race, class, and culture, fanned by the media under the harsh L.A. sun."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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