The Wangs Vs The World follows the story of the Wang family – Charles, Barba, Saina, Andrew and Grace. Charles is an incredibly successful business man who came over from China and made his fortune in the make-up industry. Then disaster strikes. Bad investment decisions coupled with the 2008 recession sends his company down and his entire fortune with it. Completely broke, Charles packs up as much as he can fit into a car and starts a journey across America to pick up his two youngest children, on a journey towards his eldest daughter’s home – the only place they can go. Along the way they rediscover what is means to be family and how to continue their lives without the immense amounts of money they once had.
Keep reading to find out what I thought…
I found The Wangs vs The World to be a refreshing and hilarious read. Jade Chang really hits the nail on the head when it comes to what it is like for American-born Chinese youngsters (ABCs) who grow up in the West with Asian parents. Being half Asian, half British myself, I was astounded at how accurate and funny, but crucially, how not racist, this story is. In Charles Wang she has perfectly captured the brazen, money-driven, family orientated Chinese man. He is an exaggerated character but I can genuinely imagine him existing in real life. It is so easy to go overboard when lightly mocking another race but Chang has balanced humour and accuracy perfectly and I’m so happy to finally be reading a really good book about POC.
The characters are complex and there is a real sense of family between all of them. At first the children seem bratty and spoilt, as many kids raised with millionaire fathers are, but as the novel goes on they start to turn more human and you grow to love them. The lives of these three kids have been completely uprooted and they’ve been dragged across half a continent by their father who seems just a bit loopy and is hiding secrets. Whilst at the beginning they are all very independent individuals, as the story goes on, they are reminded of what it means to be family, which is heart-warming. This is a tale about re-finding yourself and grounding yourself with what is really important in life when everything you have has been taken away.
What I do wonder, however, is how this book would be perceived by someone who isn’t of Oriental descent and doesn’t understand the cultural nuances. A huge part of why I enjoyed this book so much was precisely because I felt an immense connection with the characters and their heritage. I know exactly what it’s like to have an immigrant Chinese mother but most of the general population can’t say the same. What’s more, several sentences are actually written in Pin Yin (the written form of Chinese characters), which must’ve looked like gobbledegook to anyone who doesn’t speak Chinese. They are frequent enough that I wondered if someone who didn’t understand them might simply get frustrated.
All in all, I was very impressed with Jade Chang’s debut novel. It is genuinely very funny and the it is a pretty accurate representation of what many Chinese/American families are like. For those who are interested in reading something a little different and diverse, which many people have been complaining about as of late, then I’d definitely recommend The Wangs vs The World. As I said though, this book resonated with me personally quite a lot because I am half Chinese so I’m not sure others will feel quite the same way. Four out of five stars for me.
Have you read The Wangs vs The World? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on it and what you make of the cultural references. Comment below!
Thanks very much to Penguin for providing me with a review copy.