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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee is a series of essays about his career as a writer and how that is intimately linked to his identities. It is in the first essay that Chee introduces us to his multiple and complex identities. He is a Korean American who is half white, and he is also a gay man. He is from Maine where he is often made to feel out of place, less than human, and exotic. He is puzzled when he passes for Mexican while living as an exchange student in Mexico. As a young boy, he is introduced to the arbitrariness of race and identity. In his hometown he is seen as foreign, and in a country that is foreign to him he is seen as “ordinary at first glance.” From this jumping point Chee considers how art and identity are woven together. Furthermore, he postulates that identity is a performance.

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The second essay considers Chee’s experience as a Tarot card reader. He is engrossed in the act of Tarot card reading because it forces one to look objectively outside of themselves. This is perhaps Chee’s methodology throughout the book. It reads as though he is providing a balance between personal self reflection and objective observations.

In later essays we learn that Chee lost his father due to complications following a car accident. Chee attributes his pursuit of reading and writing to the trauma of losing his father, which inspired him to seek solace in the words of fellow writers. Chee goes on to express his inner struggle following 9/11. He, like so many artists, is completely at a loss following the atrocity. He feels distant and useless when placed up against so much struggle and pain. However, Chee ends his series of essays encouraging fellow writers to keep writing. He references his earlier musings on his childhood and the arbitrariness of identity. He urges writers to keep writing because you never know who may connect to it. He believes that writing is a central method through which cross cultural barriers can be overcome.

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