Sunday, May 28, 2023

Gail Tsukiyama's The Brightest Star shines a spotlight on American actress Anna May Wong

With the recent, long overdue focus on Asian representation in Hollywood, the time is ripe to look back on an industry trailblazer. Following her many previous well-received sagas, Tsukiyama offers a riveting biographical novel about Anna May Wong (1905–61), a third-generation Chinese American whose prominent acting career spanned silent films, early television, and the stage.

Wong’s intimate voice, in this imagined account, rings so clear that readers may be tempted into believing they’re reading an actual memoir. Growing up amid her parents’ laundry business near Los Angeles’ Chinatown, Anna skips school to visit nickelodeons and vows to appear on screen herself. She achieves remarkable success, always striving to give audiences authentic Chinese portrayals, though is stymied by stereotypical parts, anti-miscegenation laws, and paternal pressure to abandon her “shameful” profession.

For greater freedom, Anna travels to Europe, where she befriends Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker. With its rich supporting cast, the novel emphasizes the friendships and family relationships that help Anna thrive, while her many disappointments (like losing a leading role in The Good Earth to a German actress in “yellowface”) catch at the heart.

At times, the narrative breezes rather quickly through Anna’s accomplishments, but overall, this stirring story about the drive and courageous spirit of a talented, barrier-breaking American icon works magnificently.

The Brightest Star will be published by HarperVia on June 20th; I reviewed it for Booklist's historical fiction issue, which came out on May 15th. The review was the magazine's Review of the Day on May 17th. 

Wong was recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, and the U.S. Mint issued a quarter with her image in October 2022; she was the first Asian American to appear on U.S. currency. Hers is a fascinating story of talent and determination that deserves readers' attention. You can view many of her films (and clips from them) at the Gallery of Anna May Wong channel on YouTube.


  1. Congtrats on having the Review of the Day! Great review, as always.

    1. Thanks! It was a nice surprise to see it recognized.