Explore[s] in blistering detail the power imbalances that inevitably exist in academia—and their unsettling consequences ... [A] searing satire ... Chou details her protagonist’s struggles with dry humor and wit, underlining everything about her life that is absurd, just as Ingrid herself is beginning to see it ... The combination of knowledge, power and misbehavior makes for a titillating story.
The hyperactive satire is so consistently funny it almost makes the reader forget about the serious societal issues that undergird the humor ... As a comedic heroine, Ingrid is easy to root for, due mainly to her bumbling nature and the fact that she’s surrounded by White people of dubious character ... Admirably, the book doesn’t just take shots at problematic White people. Supporting characters highlight unsavory aspects of the Asian American experience as well ... On occasion, Chou shoots for laughs over character consistency and plausibility ... Despite these speed bumps, Disorientation does what great comedies and satires are supposed to do: make you laugh while forcing you to ponder the uncomfortable implications of every punchline. In this book’s universe, for example, the authenticity of every interracial relationship is questioned. Chou’s novel is a promising debut, one that makes this reader look forward to what she will make fun of next.
Disorientation is a satire, and it is frequently funny and insightful, with plenty to say about art, identity, Orientalism and the politics of academia ... The satire loses its bite when the novel diverges too far from observable reality ... Ingrid sometimes feels less like a naïve 29-year-old grad student than an alien visitor from a parallel earth ... And yet, the zaniness is, on balance, entertaining, rising to a delightful climax at Ingrid’s dissertation defense. The detail work is sometimes shoddy...but the construction holds, with no lack of charm or character.
In the conversation surrounding Elaine Hsieh Chou’s debut novel Disorientation, I expect to see discussion of her carefully crafted satire, her inclusion and destruction of campus tropes, and the meticulous unpacking of Asian American identity in the lens of violence and fetishism. These should all be discussed, but I hope the conversation also includes its readability. Because the novel is captivating, irresistible, and intensely readable, and what we ultimately come to literature to find ... It can be difficult to envision a book tackling themes of identity, systemic discrimination, and exclusion as laden with humor, but this book certainly delivers ... As Ingrid navigates her relationships with each of these people, witnessing herself growing and changing as a result, the narrative moves at a snappy pace and keeps the reader careening into the next chapter ... In many ways, the book holds up to the challenge, but in its effort to balance its varying themes and relationships, the novel can read didactic. In some ways, it does attempt to split the difference between nonfiction discourse and engaging fictional satire, and when it veers too far in the former direction, the result is heavy-handedness ... Nevertheless, what Disorientation shows us is that there is power in the page-turner, that literary merit and a unique, propelling story are not mutually exclusive. Of course, those of us who love reading know this already, but books like this show us that it never hurts to be reminded.
Addressing issues of racial identity, interracial relationships, the value of the arts in relation to the artist’s identity, and a host of other topics relevant to our times, Chou’s novel attempts to cover a lot of ground. The result reads like a TV script starring a predominantly Asian cast ... Chou’s debut opens with promise and an intriguing premise, but as it moves along, multiple story lines are left open, and many characters...are left underdeveloped. Nevertheless, readers who enjoyed Vanessa Hua’s River of Stars will appreciate this similarly humorous if sometimes unbelievable romp.
Gleefully dark and incisive ... Though mainly a traditional third-person narrative, the story occasionally veers into a multiformat approach ... Chou's examination of the catch-22s faced by Asian Americans, particularly women, straddles the line between satiric and searing. Ingrid's experiences not only lampoon the cynicism and tokenization that often lie beneath the veneer of some diversity work in academia, they also serve to highlight Western stereotypes and the infantilization of Asian women ... Disorientation is the best combination of entertaining and thought-provoking, and Chou is an exciting new voice in novel-length fiction.
... engaging, humorous, and biting ... Chou’s distinct, self-effacing voice makes for a fun ride into a highly charged realm, with a plot that naturally escalates as she looks into various claims about truth in art, who appropriates whom, the limits of allyship, and how we gaslight ourselves in order to accept everyday racial horrors. The narration includes news articles, research excerpts, ransom notes, and even one highly comical courtroom-transcript version of Ingrid’s inner monologue. Overall, Chou reflects a world that’s complex and entertaining, one that will leave readers with a renewed perspective.
A zany if uneven romp through American academia and cultural assimilation ... Sometimes the portraits feel a bit too cartoonish...but overall Chou effectively skewers a world that takes itself all too seriously, particularly after Ingrid makes an explosive discovery about Chou that could compromise Barnes. This will charm a wide set of readers, not just those pursuing PhDs.
A promising setup, but author Chou doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. There are moments that seem to be aiming for screwball comedy...but they're not funny. There are definitely attempts at satire, but Chou’s takes on both political correctness and the people who hate it are generally facile ... The connection between intellectual and artistic colonization and White nationalism is an interesting one, but Chou makes the choice to turn a subtly ridiculous character into a cartoon villain instead of interrogating that connection ... At a superficial level, this is the story of Ingrid becoming socially conscious. In some scenes, Chou does a great job of showing the reader why Ingrid is reluctant to identify as East Asian. In others, though, Ingrid comes across as not merely dismissive of Vivian and her ideas, but mostly unaware of the conversations about race that have been taking place on college campuses since at least the 1990s ... Ideas worth examining get buried beneath weak character development.