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Book Review: Disorientation – Elaine Hsieh Chou

Elaine Hsieh Chou’s debut is an epic novel of satire, an intelligent romp with sparklingly tender moments. Disorientation follows a 29-year-old Taiwanese American Ingrid Yang, a PhD student currently working on her dissertation on canonical Xiao-Wen Chou, a fictional ‘Asian American’ icon.

Elaine Hsieh Chou is a Taiwanese American writer from California with her short fiction appears in The Normal School, Black Warrior ReviewGuernicaTin House Online, and Ploughshares. Her debut novel, Disorientation, is far from short and gives a hilarious characterisation and coming of consciousness tale that will keep you on your toes. 

After four years of painstaking research, Ingrid has little to show aside from anxiety and stomach pain. After she accidentally stumbles upon a strange and curious note, it’s only then that the pace of the novel increases and we become more engaged with riveting characters such as Ingrid, Eunice, and Vivian.

Her determination to get to the bottom of the note’s message leads to an explosive discovery, one that curtails her work and research and opens the door to questioning all certainty. With an element of absurdism, this satire is a rollicking title that brings literary fiction into the fold.

With much to remind her of her personal issues with identity and her roots, Ingrid is a character that feels rounded and real, though fallible in so many ways. Warm and exploratory and with an uncertainty and insecurity that feels conceivable of academic life, Chou has created an interesting world through Ingrid.

Through this debut novel Chou questions who gets to tell our stories and the variations that exist that can change and evolve with the teller. Surreal, witty, and at times absurd, Disorientation is a page-turning piece of prose that embellishes the themes through its own narrative and character development. Intelligently executed, I will keep my eye out for more from Chou (not that Chou).  

Disorientation is published on 21st July 2022, by Picador Books 

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