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  • Writer's pictureCharles Arrowsmith

Review: Stay True by Hua Hsu (Washington Post)

The murder of a college friend lies at the heart of Hua Hsu’s memoir “Stay True.” The friend, referred to in the book only as Ken, was shot dead at 20 years old in Vallejo, Calif., early one Sunday morning in July 1998, after a party in Berkeley. It was “a freak occurrence,” an inept robbery that devolved into violence, and Ken’s assailants were quickly apprehended and jailed. Hsu describes both the buildup and the aftermath with devastating emotional precision, questioning the possibility of meaning in tragedy and the value of the stories we tell while attempting to find it. It is a thoughtful, affecting book.

When an editor at the college paper suggests that Ken, a Japanese American, might have been the victim of a hate crime, Hsu initially rejects the idea. “I was mostly upset that my colleague had tried to slot Ken’s death into a broader context,” he writes, “one beyond my understanding and control. I was unwilling to relinquish him to some greater cause.” As he finds himself drawn to news of other violent murders, though — killings often apparently catalyzed by bigotry — the narrative becomes harder to resist. But can the label hate crime, even if accurate, ever be sufficient — or is it just an attempt to comprehend and contain the unfathomable?

For the review in full, visit The Washington Post.

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