Gail Tsukiyama, the beloved bestselling author of “The Color of Air,” “Women of the Silk,” and “The Samurai’s Garden,” returns with “The Brightest Star,” a historical novel based on the life of the luminous, groundbreaking actress Anna May Wong — the first and only Asian American woman to gain movie stardom in the early days of Hollywood.

At the dawn of a new century, America is falling in love with silent movies, including young Wong Liu Tsong. The daughter of Chinese immigrants who own a laundry, Wong Liu and her older sister Lew Ying (Lulu) are taunted and bullied for their Chinese heritage. But while Lulu diligently obeys her parents and learns to speak Chinese, Wong Liu sneaks away to the local nickelodeons, buying a ticket with her lunch money and tips saved from laundry deliveries.

By age 11, Wong Liu is determined to become an actress and has already chosen a stage name: Anna May Wong. At 16, Anna May leaves high school to pursue her Hollywood dreams, defying her disapproving father and her Chinese traditional upbringing — a choice that will hold emotional and physical consequences.

After a series of nothing parts, 19-year-old Anna May gets her big break — and her first taste of Hollywood fame — starring opposite Douglas Fairbanks in “The Thief of Baghdad.” Yet her beauty and talent aren’t enough to overcome the racism that relegates her to supporting roles as a helpless, exotic butterfly or a vicious, murderous dragon lady while Caucasian actresses in “yellowface” are given starring roles portraying Asian women.

Gail Tsukiyama

Though she suffers professionally and personally, Anna May fights to win lead roles, accept risqué parts, financially support her family, and keep her illicit love affairs hidden — even as she finds freedom and glittering stardom abroad, and receives glowing reviews across the globe.

Powerful, poignant, and imbued with Tsukiyama’s warmth and empathy, “The Brightest Star” reimagines the life of the first Asian American screen star whose legacy endures — a remarkable and inspiring woman who broke barriers and became a shining light in Hollywood history.

“I can think of no better author than the incomparable Gail Tsukiyama to introduce readers to Anna May Wong. For all of her remarkable life, Wong struggled against the racism of Hollywood and the conservatism of her family. For every triumph there was a disappointment, but for every disappointment, there was also a triumph. Through it all, the ups, the downs, the in-betweens, Tsukiyama keeps her focus on Wong’s bright, resilient spirit. A beautiful, haunting book.” — Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author

A publication day launch was held June 20 at Book Passage in San Francisco. Upcoming dates include:

Thursday, June 22, at 7 p.m. at Napa Bookmine, 1625 2nd St., Napa, in conversation with Karen Provenza

Tuesday, June 27, at 7 p.m. at Kepler’s Books, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, in conversation with Angie Coiro

Thursday, June 29, at 7 p.m. at Bookshop West Portal, 80 W Portal Ave., San Francisco, in conversation with Mary Roach

Thursday, July 6, at 5 p.m.: Virtual Book Club via Zoom. Register at

Monday, July 10, at 7 p.m. at Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave., Seattle, in conversation with Elizabeth George

Wednesday, July 12, at 7 p.m. at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, Ore.

Tsukiyama was born in San Francisco to a Chinese immigrant mother from Hong Kong and a Japanese American father from Hawaii. She attended San Francisco State University, where she received both her BA and MA degrees in English. She is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Award and the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, and is also currently the executive director of WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water, a nonprofit organization that provides books and access to water in developing countries.

Her other books include “A Hundred Flowers,” “The Street of a Thousand Blossoms,”
“Dreaming Water,” “The Language of Threads,” and “Night of Many Dreams.”

Author’s website:

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