“Every immigrant is the person he might have been and the person he is, and his homeland is at once the place it would have been to him from the inside and the place it must be to him from the outside.”
Jade Chang has got the book world all abuzz this fall, and with good reason. Her debut novel, “The Wangs vs. the World”, is a searingly witty story about a charmingly dysfunctional family.
Charles Wang immigrated to America as a young man with unbridled ambition and a need to prove himself. Soon he had created a make-up empire, a fortune, and an all-American family. He was living the American dream…right up until the 2008 recession costs him absolutely everything. Charles frantically gathers up his children, forcing the family to reunite in an uproarious journey across the country and, eventually, across the globe, all in an effort to redefine success and to re-establish himself as the head of a noble family.
Upon his arrival in America, Charles has a moment of inspiration, a moment of clarity that determines his path and confirms his understanding of his new home.
“Makeup was American, and Charles understood makeup. It was artifice, and it was honesty. It was science and it was psychology and it was fashion; but more than that, it was about feeling wealthy.”
Later, when Charles feels deceived and shattered by America, his perspective is more jaded, but no less astute.
“America celebrated Christopher Columbus, a thief and a liar, a man who called himself a great sailor but couldn’t even navigate his way past an entire continent. A man who discovered nothing, who explored nothing, yet was made into a hero all the same. …THere was nothing patriotic about honoring a man who made a mockery of true pioneers, a man who proved that America couldn’t even take charge of its own discovery myth!”
For Andrew, Wang’s son, “America usually felt like iPhones and pizza and swimming pools … L.A. was America. New sneakers. Sunshine. Pot and blue balls. Phoenix was America. Sprinklers and blow jobs and riding shotgun. Vegas was America, all of it. But if there were monsters and magic anywhere in this country, they would be here in New Orleans. New Orleans was an ancient doppelganger city that grew in some other America that never really existed.”
“The Wangs vs. the World” is a delightful deconstruction of stereotypes and tropes about immigrant families and about what it means to be American. The Wangs are irreverent, artistic, and, at least in the case of the younger generation, lost. This family, its experiences, and its brutally honest conceptions and perceptions of America simultaneously break down the “immigrant experience” while reminding readers that modern America is a country almost entirely of immigrants. The Wangs are utterly, unabashedly American, and their story is an outright delight.
Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the complimentary copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.