Magical Realism allegory for beasts of Hollywood

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You might say my family is in the business of immortality.

Divided into three acts and told from her point-of-view, this is the story of a 12 year old Chinese girl who works at her family's laundry in San Francisco in 1932 and dreams of obtaining her own immortality and freedom by making it in Hollywood. The first act shows her family life, quiet mother, emotionally absent father, and younger sister, and how fate has her wandering onto a movie set filming in the streets by her home, the actress that bestows a silvery kiss on her forehead, and the director that wants to use her for his own gains. After doing some bit parts as a child, she turns eighteen and having some idea how Hollywood treats Asian actresses, she searches out an older actress to gain some insider knowledge to learn how to navigate the dark waters coming up to face her. With a magical bargain, Mrs. Wiley takes 20yrs of her life and tells her how to gain some power and footing. She blackmails the director to get her a meeting with the head of Wolfe Studios, Oberlin Wolfe, and with her own pride and that silvery kiss, gets him to give her a three year contract. She's on her way but it cost her 20yrs and stealing her sister's name, Luli Wei.

It was done, and I was Luli Wei.
I was going to be a star.

The beginning part was a little tough to get into, the magical realism world is not explained at all and I never had a clear understanding of it. Act 2 has Luli living on the studio grounds and learning the studio life, along with her first romance with a golden siren actress Emmaline. There's talk of Friday Night Fires, people gathered in their groups for parties, and The Hunt where studio heads and big wigs chase down their prey. A lot of this section deals with Luli's roommate, Greta, a half-woman, half-animal being that was kidnapped from a Nordic country and had to have her tail cut to be acceptable for movies. Greta falls in love with someone Oberlin Wolfe has special interest in, winds up getting pregnant, and then has to meet with Mrs. Wiley to gain knowledge to learn how to rescue herself and her love from Wolfe's clutches. Luli is in the middle of it all while trying to gain roles that will lead to what she sees as immortality.

“You better know who you are,” she said, “because you don't look strong enough to be me.”

I would suggest not reading this for the Magical Realism, because, as I said, that aspect of the world-building is not developed. It's clear that beasts and the overall supernatural elements are added to be allegory for the real life predatory Hollywood world. I'm sure it was no accident that author used magical realism and fantasy to portray this world and Wolfe is a beast who preys on young people coming to him to be a star, it's not hard to see a Harvey Weinstein there. Luli also being Chinese adds the layer of racism she must also face and I liked how her stubbornness wouldn't let her play the racist roles she had seen other woman of color play but that when she interacted with actresses that had taken on those roles, they were at turns angry that she wouldn't play the game, jealous, and also supportive and trying to be helpful to the path she was trying to blaze. There was a great scene where an actress tells Luli that she better blaze her own trail because Luli wasn't strong enough to take on the roles the actress had and Luli agreed that she couldn't do what that actress was doing to support her family.

“The world lets you get away with some thngs. Oberlin Wolfe does too. But darling, she's too much, she's too much, and you know it, don't you?”
Too much, too strange, and I knew right away that she had a truth between her teeth. Like I knew earlier that pretty was a painted target that Tara lacked, I knew this too.

Act 3 had Luli achieving success on getting a role she wanted, playing a monster that commanded the screen and audiences. With this success though, all her family and the friends she had made at the studio are all gone. The ending was a speed through of how her life ended up, we learn who the Jane is that Luli has seemingly been telling this life story to, and, as with any life, there were some highs and lows for Luli as she hurt, angered, scared, inspired, and blazed a trail as a woman of color. The first half took sometime to understand the world and realize the role magical realism was playing, the middle was better with Luli making connections with other characters and learning how to live her truthful way in Hollywood, and the ending was rushed. If you go in realizing this is more a commentary on the predatory, racist, and bigotry of Hollywood told in fantasy/magical realism elements, you'd enjoy this more than looking for a magical realism world set in Hollywood.