Mister Yam, by Yeng K Tan
Independently published, 9798450939674, 236 pages, August 2021
I will admit that I did not know what I was getting myself into when I started reading Mister Yam by Yeng K Tan. The bold, contrasting colors on the front of the book, overlaid by a red sheep with golden wings wasn’t much of an indication of what this curious book might be about.
Sure, sure I had read the back-cover description: a twenty-something year old guy disillusioned by corporate life finds his life re-examined when a series of events propels him to embark on a mysterious quest to find answers only he can discover. Kind of generic, right? But let me tell you, this book was so much more than your run of a mill adventure pursuit of the unknown; it’s filled with transcendental wisdom, intimate psychological revelation, and a lot of good eats!
Mister Yam lives a pretty routine life: he has a steady job, though he’s not much interested in career ambition, visits his favorite local bar, enjoys watching the evening news, recently experienced a break up with his girlfriend, and most of all, is always thinking about his next meal.
However, after attending a career fair with his buddy Lorenzo, a series of strange events start happening in his life. It begins when a bald man with a big hat gives him a small wooden box with a lock but no key on a train. Then Mister Yam starts getting phone calls from a person eerily familiar with small details of his life, such as what he’s doing at that moment.
Since the box remains a mystery to him, Mister Yam takes it to a local pawn shop to see if they can tell him more about it. Looking up a data search of the box reveals map coordinates, but nothing else. After learning that his friend Lorenzo has gone missing in the midst of all these random and unexplainable events, Mister Yam feels like he must follow the coordinates to find his friend.
He continues his journey to find answers on a bus headed towards Montana. Oddly enough, at a stop in Idaho, he notices the girl from the pawn shop is also on the bus, and they decide to share lunch. She invites him to travel with her for a bit, and he accepts the offer.
As they ride around in her van, Emma reveals her own experience with the bald man and how her life was inexplicably changed after meeting him. Once a Mormon, the bald man even connects to why she’s back in Idaho at that time. Mister Yam isn’t the type of person to overthink things though, and rather than probe her about who this bald man might be, they just get stoned and hook up.
The next day, Mister Yam continues on his journey to Montana. Once again he meets a woman, Sappho, who assists him in this journey. She had seen Lorenzo check into the hotel with the bald man just a few weeks prior. While they were staying at the hotel, she had an odd experience that matches a dream Mister Yam has been having, where they enter a dark room filled with candles.
Together, they set off into the snowy Montana mountain side to find what is located at these mysterious coordinates. However, this is where my summary will end because what comes next is one of those endings that makes you really question concepts of perception, reality, and the feats of consciousness.
I realize this summary seems rather basic, but do not let it deter you from picking up this book! I intentionally left out a lot of the mysterious events, such as a strange play called The Life of Boris, and the many references to sheep that keep revealing themselves.
Plus, what really makes the book worth reading is the revelations the character has about perception. He’s a foodie by heart, and his descriptions of what he’s eating created a craving in me quite a few times. But most of all, he’s a rather unassuming person who’s open to letting the mystery reveal itself without working too hard to grasp it. Yes, he’s curious, but he’s not over thinking about all the events occurring; he’s more like a passenger on a great voyage of sublime divine planning.
At times I didn’t know what to think about the events, and I really had no idea how it would turn out. But I felt reconnected to my own awareness through reading the book, and I was enticed to be more mindful in my day to day routine. This plot moves along a general path, but it has detours, just like life does. There’s something very “in the flow” to how it progresses.
As mysterious as it seems, there’s always a gentle pulse of love and higher knowledge that seems to be guiding seemingly unconnected events to make it a cohesive narrative. The pieces are all woven together in due time, and I valued Mister Yam’s “take it as it is” style in the matter of getting to the heart of the truth.
Reading Mister Yam instantly reminded me why I adore independently published books. Tan’s writing style is unique, fresh, and one of a kind. This story doesn’t have the same narrative plot that’s been churned out over and over again, making the read a wash-rinse-repeat type of experience.
What I liked most about it overall was the stream of consciousness narration of the main character. I really got into his inner dialogue. And while I did feel like he was very much a dude (I will admit the male mind seems very foreign to me), I completely vibed with Mister Yam’s observations, thoughts about the world, and motivations. It reassured me that as a millennial, we do see things in a way other I want to say older but am trying to not create an OK Boomer moment) view things.
From the disillusionment with a corporate lifestyle to insights about current politics, I felt like Mister Yam was immensely relatable. And therefore, I was more inclined to be interested in how the story unfolded. (To be honest, I was actually very interested and read this book in one day because I just wanted to keep going!) He had valuable insight into the world, and he was also a great tipper. His respect towards those around him reflected his good nature.
The other aspect of this book that I enjoyed is how well it captures the “spirit of the land”. From San Francisco to Montana, I felt the narrative come alive through the character’s interaction with the landscape. Whether it be walking around Berkeley to being hunkered down in the snow of Montana, Tan does a wonderful job of painting a vivid picture for the reader. Even when it was just Mister Yam sitting at the bar, I could see it, taste it, feel it, and hear it.
Overall, Mister Yam is like the millennial’s version of a Burning Man revelations within one’s ho-hum life through a strange series of events that help Mister Yam get at the truth of the matter. There’s a mixture of Jung’s synchronicities with psychedelic revelations that come via perception of the mind, filled with the many tastes of Food Network. If this feels like a random jumble of things, I’ve made my point clear. There’s no one way to explain the deep message of Mister Yam, but reading it is a journey in itself — one that I highly encourage.
Alanna Kali is an astrologer, numerologist, and pioneer spirit that loves to explore life through the lens of depth psychology. She has a passion for studying the humanities and social trends. Her academic work is centered upon reuniting body, mind, and spirit through eco-psychology. She loves reading, spending time in nature, and travel.