Genre: Historical Fiction/Multicultural/Bio-Fiction
Publisher: HarperVia International
Publication Date: June 20, 2023
“The Brightest Star” is a fictionalized account of the life and times of Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American starlet to appear in Hollywood films and the first Chinese-American to get a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. The book is written as if Wong is writing in her journal, so we read our protagonist in the first person. The novel is a tribute to Anna May Wong’s legacy in her battle against racism and sexism rather than reading as historical fiction. I love black and white movies, and having seen a handful of Wong’s films, I thought I would be in awe of this bio-fiction. However, I was disappointed. Anna May Wong was a trailblazer. I wanted to feel her strong spirit and determination as she clawed her way into the movie business. Instead, the story reads more like an article in a newspaper—Passionless.
Tsukiyama did much research for her novel. She presents Anna May’s films in chronological order. Despite this, we don’t get a sense of who Wong was. The author does the same when writing about Wong’s lifelong effort to have America understand and accept Chinese Americans. There are snidbits mentioned of her depression, drinking, and affairs with married men. It even felt flat when I read of her romantic relationship with Marlene Dietrich when they were both cast in the 1932 film “Shanghai Express.”
The only time I felt moved by “Brightest Star” was reading when the studio misled Wong into thinking she would be the leading lady in the classic 1937 film, “The Good Earth.” Despite Anna May’s credited status, a white actress in yellowface makeup was cast. The racism smacked me in the face. I can only recommend this novel if you want to learn about her life and do not want to go to Wong’s Wikipedia page.
I received this novel at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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