The 1957 novel was turned into a Broadway musical and a Hollywood movie

C Y Lee, the author of The Flower Drum Song has died aged 102.

According to NY Times, the author of The Flower Drum Song Chin Yang Lee has died at the age of 102.

Lee’s son, Jay Lee, confirmed that his father passed away on 8 November 2018 but the family had decided at the time to not make his death public.

The Flower Drum Song, published in 1957, tells the tale of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco. In 1958, the novel was turned into a Gene Kelly musical and in 1961, a film adaptation was released starring Nancy Kwan and James Shigeta.

In 2002, M Butterfly playwright David Henry Hwang revived the book.

Despite its success, the original manuscript was rejected by more than a dozen publishing houses before publishing house Farrar, Straus and Cudahy picked it up. An 80-year-old reader for the publishing house has been credited for its publication. A copy of the book was beside his sick bed and as he did not have the energy to write a long critique, he simply wrote “read this.”

“He was quite ill, but he read it,” Lee said of the man. “He didn’t have the energy to write a two or three-page critique. He wrote only two words – ‘Read this’ – and died. Without those two words, the novel would have never been published.”

Critics also held mixed views about Lee’s novel. The New York Times’ Idwal Jones praised the author’s “objective eye” but criticised the book’s “slang and sex” and “popular taste”.

“I thought, ‘Oh, it’s such a shame this author and this book have been lost, particularly the bittersweet tone of the novel’,” Hwang said in 2001. “C.Y.’s book is complicated in terms of texture about what it means to be an American – the things you gain and the things you lose – but it ultimately affirms the value of this social experience.”

Lee moved from China to San Francisco during the Second World War and wrote The Flower Drum Song in a small apartment above a Filipino nightclub in San Francisco.

“In Chinatown, I knew everything that was going on,” he said in 2002. “Out of that I created characters, using everybody, including my own family and my friends, plus a lot of invention from the air.”

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