The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang – Witty Journey of a Bankrupt Family across America
7th December, 2016
When Charles Wang, a businessman, realises he has lost all his money, he packs what he can into a car and sets off to seek shelter in the house of his elder daughter. On the way the Wang family realises what it means to stand for each other.
The Wangs vs the World is Jade Chang’s debut novel about the Wang family. Charles Wang is an incredibly successful business man who came over from China and made his fortune in the make-up industry in the United States. The business suffers a huge blow with the onset of recession coupled with some bad investment decisions and he is left penniless. Not just him, he has to withdraw his daughter, Grace, and son, Andrew, from school because he cannot afford to pay the tuitions. (as well as give up their cars because there is no money). Yes! Whoosh – Everything you might call wealth disappears overnight for the Wangs. Completely broke, Charles starts a journey across America to pick up his two youngest children from school, and drive towards his eldest daughter, Saina’s home, which is the only place they can go. Along the way, the masks the family members have worn peel off and they rediscover what it means to be family.
The character sketch deserves a round of applause for such detailed descriptions. Chang puts together a wonderful display of the troubles faced by American born Chinese youngsters and the gap between them and their parents. The side- characters in the novel are delightfully described as well.
Charles is the well rounded patriarch whose business empire has collapsed and he has nothing in the world except his family and what he has packed inside the car. In the end he comes to the conclusion that “The Communists had it all wrong. It wasn’t the rich who were imprisoned by their possessions, it was the poor”. When Amah (the nurse who looked after Charles himself and later his children) gives back her 1980 Mercedes that Charles had gifted her years ago to help the Wang family wade through the dark waters, he feels as if “he was sucking on her nipple again, a grown man in Armani trying to draw milk out of her wizened breast.” There is a sharp contrast in the way Amah feels about the Wang family and her own daughter’s outlook about the family.
Barbra, Charles’ second wife, who “had given nothing but her bullish charm to this family – she hadn’t made the money or borne the children or even decorated the house or cooked the food. He’d done the first, his second wife had done the second, and they’d hired people to do the rest” reflects on her decisions to marry Charles and her life before setting foot on the US soil.
Bloggers rejoice! Because Grace is a blogger (who often quotes Virginia Woolf) and she faces the same judgement that many bloggers face in everyday life from those who do not understand the blogging world. I found her character sketch so refreshing.
Andrew, the son, dreams of being a stand-up comedian, has a self made mantra to sleep only with the one he is love with. However in an unpredictable sequence of events, he abandons the family for an older woman with “crazy blue diamond eyes with light eyelashes that were a very pale pink and amazing masses of goldish red hair like some sort of fairy queen“.
Saina is my least favourite of the characters and her sketch fell flat for me. She seems to fall into the cliché of the ‘confused in love’. I think I would never understand how characters in TV shows and novels often sleep with people and give the same excuse “I was confused”. In the story, Saina is the last resort for the Wang family for a roof over their heads, but she is in a mess with a cheating fiancé, a new boyfriend and an unexpected blow in her career in the art world.
The humour in the novel is spot-on and had me chuckling at several places. Here is an example of Chang’s take on magazines –
“Women’s magazines were all about feeling something. There was advice on how to feel pretty, how to feel love and how to feel happy, all sold to you by making you feel like you were none of those things. Men’s magazines on the other hand, were about making money, going to places, having sex with beautiful women, and eating rare or bloody things. Passions, not emotions.”
There are many sentences that are written in Chinese. Though at the beginning of the novel, I had difficulty deciphering what is being told, Chang gets the hang of it at quarter the length of the book. There on, a sentence in Chinese is followed by another character speaking the same (asking a question or nodding yes), so the meaning comes out to the reader who cannot understand Chinese.
The writer is effortless in nature which makes the book a fast read. I found a few hiccups towards the end of the novel, but they are not big enough to complain about.
The novel is family and love, how a family that isn’t as close as they should be, find themselves thrown together in unexpected circumstances.
Charles’ children are not aware of his past – his family fleeing from the violence of China’s Little Red Guard and his father’s resettlement in Taiwan. All these stories spill out over the course of the book to the reader, though not necessarily to the Wang children. Charles’ hope to reclaim what he had lost in China and start anew shows the grit of his character and makes the reader motivated to see him through his journey.
Final Verdict :
This is an excellent book of you are looking for a great witty read for the holidays. The characters are quirky and the text is sprinkled with sarcasm and humour. Overall, a very enjoyable read.
Title : The Wangs vs the World
Author : Jade Chang
Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published : 2016
Language : English
Pages : 368
Rating : 4/5
Much thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.
Have you read The Wangs vs the World yet? What did you think of it? If not, is it on your TBR?
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Jade Chang has worked as an arts and culture journalist and editor for publications like the BBC, Metropolis, Glamour, and The Los Angeles Times Magazine. She was recently an editor at Goodreads. The Wangs vs the World is her first novel.