This essay appears courtesy of Book of the Month, a book subscription service. October's book is "The Wangs vs. the World" by Jade Chang, selected by actress Constance Wu.
When discussing Asian American writing there are two common traps:
- Assuming that Asian stories are the same as Asian American stories. (They’re not!)
- Assuming that Asian Americans characters are just “regular people” in a story unaffected by their ethnicity.
Jade Chang’s funny, effusive, heartfelt novel "The Wangs vs. the World" defies both traps. It’s not a story about Asians, but a story about Asian Americans: regular people claiming ownership of the Chinese roots that shaped their American identities.
Charles Wang is a Chinese person from Taiwan who moved to America with big dreams and little direction. His immodest spirit and a stroke of luck make him fabulously wealthy selling deer pee to perfume manufacturers. He buys a mansion in Bel-Air and raises two daughters and a son, all uniquely American kids (think college parties, quality weed, BMW convertibles, designer handbags, art openings and artisanal cheeses). But no man’s spirit is strong enough to weather the force of an entire economy’s crash (think 2008) and Charles, out of nowhere, loses everything.
Where do we go when we have nothing? Home. It’s where we reclaim and revive our purest selves. And for Charles, home means two things: family and motherland. So, since his family is scattered all over America, he embarks on a cross country road trip from Bel Air to New York’s Hudson Valley to collect his kids and to seek out their rights to his ancestor’s Chinese motherland.
But the sudden poverty is unsettling for all. Grace, the youngest Gen-Z daughter has to go from blogging about Couture Fashion to finding the beauty in a Whataburger sign. For the son Andrew, a college student at Tulane, and true idealist, the loss of his innocence affects him more than the loss of his money as he falls into a passionate fling with a much older woman. And the eldest daughter Saina’s riches spring from love. Her two love affairs are the art world and Grayson, her narcissistic manchild boyfriend. She loses both, and hides away in the Catskills, awaiting her family’s arrival.
For the father, this arrival is all to get the Wangs back to their Chinese homeland. But like all good stories, it’s the journey not the destination. The Wangs piece themselves together on the trip. And as you read this book, I hope you find pieces of yourself as well. I know I did. This novel is filled with heart, history, and humor. It is a worthy and exciting story. I am very glad that it is being told and that it is being read.