The Five Star Friday recommendation this week is the debut novel, The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang. Not only is it entertaining, it’s smart and unique. As Chang said in an NPR interview with Steve Inskeep, “I didn’t want to write about immigrants or people of color who feel like they just have to struggle to measure up, who feel like they want to emulate white people basically. I wanted to write about people who feel like they are entirely central to their own story, and central to the story of America.”
Publisher’s Summary: A hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent–and about the cross-country road trip that binds them back together.
Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands–and his pride.
Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and the rest of them involved in an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.
Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs Vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America-and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.
There are many important and relatable themes in The Wangs Vs. The World from family dysfunction, race, and national identity versus individual identity. But one that makes the angry and brash Charles Wang so lovable is his relationship to his family as well as his homeland apart from the wealth it represented.
Although I am not an immigrant, it has been decades since I have walked the ground of the land where I grew up. I have had the luxury of visiting and living in various places in the world and enjoyed all of that comes with being in a foreign land – food, customs, and new perspectives. However, homesickness for land – not just house and family – was something I experience still. Jade Chang captures Charles Wang’s cellular-level connection to place when he steps back on the land of his youth.
“I know this place. This place is mine. The soft curve of these mountains, interrupted by a tall jagged peak, was part of his blood and his birthright.” Chang continues describing how the Charles took off his mud-mired shoes, socks, rolled up his pant legs, and continued to walk enjoying the mud oozing over his feet and the “feel of nature on his bare skin.” He climbed up a tall rise, then “Charles sank to his knees, then put his hands on the earth, not caring if the insolent driver saw him. He wanted to kiss the ground, to eat it.”
Kevin Nguyen wrote in his New York Times review: “Even as the Wangs have defied the traditional arc of the immigrant story, there is no one place for them in the world. To be a first- or second-generation immigrant means wrestling with the reality that no place is ever truly home. In Chang’s compassionate and bright-eyed novel, she proves that struggling with that identity can at least be funny and strange, especially when you struggle together with family.”
Happy reading, Susan C.
You might also enjoy:
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. In the fall of 2007, Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Their situation only improves when Jende’s son Neni is hired as household help. But in the course of their work, Jende and Neni begin to witness infidelities, skirmishes, and family secrets. Then, with the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, a tragedy changes all four lives forever, and the Jongas must decide whether to continue fighting to stay in a recession-ravaged America or give up and return home to Cameroon.