Chinatowns of New York City

3-5 Mandarin, Books

March 10, 2013

Author  Wendy Wan-Yin Tan
Publisher  Arcadia Publishing
Publication Date  2008
Price  $19.99

Chinatowns of New York City by Wendy Wan-Yin Tan is principally a book of photographs, and I got a lot out of it. I did, however, get a lot more out of it the second time I looked at it, after I’d already made it to three of New York City’s five-plus Chinatowns.

That is in part because Ms. Tan doesn’t do enough to orient the less familiar reader. Nearly every page consists of two photographs of a particular street or building, with decades separating them, to show the evolution of the city’s Chinese sections.

The problem is, she switches from photos of the best-known Chinatown to photos from Flushing, Queens, or Sunset Park, Brooklyn, without indicating the switch. Naming the streets photographed—which she does—is not enough unless the reader has already been initiated into the wonders of all of them, which is not something one can count on. There are maps of the biggest Chinatown, but maps of the less well-known Chinatowns would have been helpful, too.

Another beef: the quality of some of the new photos in Chinatowns of New York City is not great. All photos, old and new, are black and white, and I couldn’t always tell without squinting which photo in a pair was the more recent one. Sometimes I just couldn’t see enough detail in the newer pictures to distinguish them easily.

I enjoyed reading the copy around the images regarding various Chinatown associations, businesses, restaurants, streets, etc. Some minor writing and grammatical issues did not diminish the pleasure I derived from the content.

A Mostly-Picture Book on New York's Chinatowns
A Mostly-Picture Book on New York's Chinatowns

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