I Hotel

A Novel by Karen Tei Yamashita
Art by Leland Wong and Sina Grace

I Hotel is an explosive site, a profound metaphor and jazzy, epic novel rolled into one. Karen Tei Yamashita chronicles the colliding arts and social movements in the Bay Area of the wayward ’70s with fierce intelligence, humor and empathy.” —Jessica Hagedorn

June 2010
6 x 9 | 640 pages
Paperback Original

ISBN: 978-1-56689-239-1.



A tour de force through America’s most transformative decade.

“As in her previous works, Yamashita incorporates satire and the surreal in prose that is playful yet knowing, fierce yet mournful, in a wildly multicultural landscape. . . . [A] passionate, bighearted novel.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Dazzling and ambitious, this hip, multivoiced fusion of prose, playwriting, graphic art, and philosophy spins an epic tale of America’s struggle for civil rights as it played out in San Francisco’s Chinatown from 1968-1977. As Yamashita’s motley cast of students, laborers, artists, revolutionaries, and provocateurs make their way through the history of the day, their stories come to define the very heart of the American experience.


2010 National Book Award Finalist

2011 American Book Award Winner

2010 California Book Award Winner

2011 Asian American Literary Award Fiction Finalist
2011 Asian American Literary Award Members’ Choice Winner

2011 2010-2011 Asian/Pacific American Library Association (APALA) Book Award Winner in Adult Fiction


Podcast: Karen Yamashita reads from I Hotel
Production services provided by iDream.tv, a Minneapolis-based multimedia company


“This is an ambitious epic novel. . . . Stylistically innovative, vertiginous, and  sweeping, this novel achieves a miraculous blend of fact and fiction and animates  an epoch when individuals tried in vain to dissolve their personalities in the rhetoric of revolutionary idealism.”—2010 National Book Award Judges’ Citation

“As original as it is political, as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, I Hotel is the result of a decade of research and writing that included more than 150 personal interviews. . . . [and] will be dog-eared and underlined and assigned to college reading lists for generations. . . . In the end, the way I Hotel accounts for the Asian American movement is both sweet and sour. And for all the losses Yamashita records, there are, we know, great achievements as well. High among them is this beautiful book.” —Washington Post Book World

“[Yamashita] hasn’t gained the broad recognition she richly deserves.”Reader’s Digest

“Brilliant. . . . [Yamashita’s] ambition is achieved with efficiency, showmanship and wit. . . . A surgically deft depiction of the political entwined with the personal. . . . Yamashita’s book recalls what art is for: ‘To resist death and dementia . . . To kiss . . . you good-bye, leaving the indelible spit of our DNA on still moist lips. Sweet. Sour. Salty. Bitter.’ In other words, I Hotel’s complex taste lingers and haunts, like something alive.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Yamashita captures the fiery righteousness—and self-righteousness—of the civil-rights movement. . . . The complexity of the era that led to the birth of Asian America. It’s a glorious tone poem, a rich reminder of the multicultural, multifaceted past from which our city grows.” —San Francisco Magazine

“It’s a stylistically wild ride, but it’s smart, funny and entrancing.” —Michael Schaub, National Public Radio

“The breadth of I Hotel’s embrace is encyclopedic and its effect is kaleidoscopic. It wants to inform and dazzle us on the confusions and conclusions on the question of culture and assimilation.” —Chicago Tribune

“[A] multiform swirl of a novel about a decade in the life of San Francisco’s Chinatown and, by extension, the Asian experience in America. . . . With delightful plays of voice and structure, this is literary fiction at an adventurous, experimental high point.” —Kirkus

“Exuberant, irreverent, passionately researched . . . Yamashita’s colossal novel of the dawn of Asian American culture is the literary equivalent of an intricate and vibrant street mural depicting a clamorous and righteous era of protest and creativity.” —Booklist (starred review)

“This is such a wonderful book. If you read Thomas Pynchon or you read David Foster Wallace, or any of those post-modern novels, this is the book you need to read.” —MPRNews

“Magnificent. . . . Intriguing.” —Library Journal

“Stunningly complete. . . . Yamashita accomplishes a dynamic feat of mimesis by throwing together achingly personal stories of lovers, old men, and orphaned children; able synopses of historical events and social upheaval . . . This powerful, deeply felt, and impeccably researched fiction is irresistibly evocative.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[Yamashita’s] novel is breathtaking in its scope and its energy and innovation make it a good fit with the exciting and transformative time period that it covers. . . . I Hotel demonstrates how complicated and finally irreducible history is-the many voices and perspectives it comprises, the divergent and winding paths it takes, the way it confounds conventional narrative. Yamashita celebrates this complexity, and she’s such a deft storyteller that you’ll end up celebrating it with her.”—Women’s Review of Books

I Hotel is an amazing literary accomplishment and one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I have ever had. I believe it stands on the same plane of accomplishment as Roberto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives and Edward P. Jones’s The Known World—an amazing literary accomplishment and a brave and bold act of publishing.” —Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Booksellers

I Hotel is at once heartrending and hilarious, both political and personal. And perhaps most thankfully, the writing is wicked smart without a drop of pretentiousness. Filled with pages that take big risks, I Hotel opens up new possibilities, not just for Asian American literature but also for contemporary fiction in general.” —Nami Mun, Asian American Literary Awards Judges’ Citation

“Huge, messy, and frantically fun, I Hotel offers a very believable panorama of life at this time. . . . The portraits of these early generation Asian Americans . . . are quite moving and conveyed without sentimentality. It’s an impressive accomplishment from an author who continues to push the boundaries of innovative fiction.” —Rain Taxi

“One of the the things that is so amazing about Karen Tei Yamashita’s most recent novel, I Hotel, is that she not only retrieves the sad beauty of a particularly fraught period of a particularly squalid community —Asian Americans in San Francisco during the 1960s-70s — but that she does so in a way that is also exhilarating, celebratory. . . . Which is why we need novels like I Hotel: to patiently help the world remember itself.”
American Book Review

I Hotel is an explosive site, a profound metaphor and jazzy, epic novel rolled into one. Karen Tei Yamashita chronicles the colliding arts and social movements in the Bay Area of the wayward ’70s with fierce intelligence, humor and empathy.” —Jessica Hagedorn

“If you were there in 1970s San Francisco, then this book is about you. At some point in reading I Hotel, I lost all objectivity. I wept, I laughed, I read silently while moving my lips. And I read the last twelve pages again and again as if an ancestor had written them.” —Shawn Wong

I Hotel, in a genre all its own somewhere between historical fiction and creative nonfiction, is an inventive attempt to re-present such an era in a way that is simultaneously heuristic and available to the imaginations of the young.”  Boom

I Hotel is a careful, considerate blend of fact and fiction, parody and pastiche; the book contains so many allusions to people, places and things that comprised one of America’s most transformational times that it bears comparisons to such canonical works as John Don Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy, and, in many ways, deserves to be called an encyclopedic text.”—Fiction Writers Review

“Karen [Yamashita] is playful and experimental; she loves spectacle and cultural complications.”—Vida: Women in Literary Arts

Excerpt from I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita

By the time we got the red alert to place our bodies in a human barricade around an old hotel that held seventy years of our city’s hotel history, we were already the displaced people in the city’s plan to impose a particular meaning of home and a particular meaning of nation. Since our hotel life was considered suspect morally and socially, our hotels should naturally be replaced by proper single-family houses built in locations distant from the city, and our hotels and all our businesses that serviced us should be replaced with what the city was properly useful for: trading posts, jails, courthouses, and saloons. And no one should be allowed to live over a saloon unless he was just passing through. A commercial room was simply not a dwelling.These edicts were substantiated by zoning and blight laws allowing the city to use eminent domain to liberate our homes for the public good, even if the public good meant giving up our property for the wealthy few. Almost as quickly as an earthquake, our neighborhoods located in the Fillmore and South of Market were already razed and being replaced by forty-eight-story multinational corporate trading posts. Even if we were expected to build, maintain, clean, and service these posts, we weren’t expected to live anywhere nearby. Be at work promptly at eight a.m., but please, please disappear by five p.m. But this was an impossible request because we could not leave, and we had nowhere to go. So that night in August, far past our five p.m. curfew and into the next morning,we gathered around the I-Hotel to face four hundred officers of the police, sheriff’s, and fire departments all dressed up in riot gear, to demonstrate that we had not disappeared and that we were finally fed up. What was the total cost to us as taxpayers, not just in overtime and equipment, but everything—everything it took over how many months in anticipation to deploy the full force of the city’s and county’s final retribution? No doubt more than a million dollars, the insipid worth of the structure we defended.
Copyright © 2010 by Karen Tei Yamashita.

Order I Hotel Paperback @ £19.95