Title: The Wangs vs. The World
Author: Jade Chang
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Goodreads Synopsis: 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 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.
Before I begin: how do you feel when an author has their characters frequently speak in a different language, and they don’t provide translation? I, for one, find it to be very irritating. Especially if I can’t figure out what they are saying.
The Wangs Vs. the World follows a family of billionaires living in L.A. who lose everything when Charles Wang, the patriarch, decides to put up his home and business as collateral to start a new line of makeup products (Referred to as “the Failure.”). When the economy crashes in 2008, Charles packs up his second wife Barbra and pulls his two kids (Grace and Andrew) out of school to make his way across the country to his oldest daughter Saina’s house in Helios, NY. This fall from grace is narrated by Charles, Barbra, Grace, Andrew, Saina, and even the car they are riding in for the majority of this road trip.
This book was promoted to be a hilarious “riches to rags” story about a family of Chinese immigrants living in America. I guess I didn’t get the jokes… I got the impression that parts of it were intended to be funny, but they just fell flat for me. In fact, I found myself cringing throughout the entire novel. The first chapter starts out with a joke about how Wang means “King” in China and “penis” in America. Penis jokes ceased to be funny when I turned 12, but please… continue. From there, Chang showcases the family’s prejudices against people who think differently than they do, look different than they do, and come from different areas and walks of life than they did. “All Floridians are backwards, all republicans are stiff and racist, all teenage/college-aged girls are slutty, mixed relationships are only okay if you have cute mixed children…” should I go on? I considered abandoning this book several times, but plodded on in the hopes that it would eventually get better.
The dialogue was good (when it was in English), especially between the siblings. The author has a knack for using dialogue to portray images and characters, and clearly made a lot of effort to create complex, well-rounded characters. I just didn’t have any sympathy for them. I didn’t relate to their problems, hopes, dreams, or fears. Any time I felt sympathetic for one of them, they did something that changed my mind. Okay, that’s a lie. Grace was the only character I wasn’t completely turned off by, but that’s only because I kept telling myself that she was just a kid and didn’t know any better than the life of privilege she was accustomed to.
This review seems to have taken a turn for the critical, which I apologize for because it really wasn’t that bad. I gave it 3/5 stars, verging on 3.5. I have to say, this book was not a terrible read. I didn’t hate it, and I did end up liking Chang’s writing. However, I found myself to be more often offended than complacent, and less invested in the characters than usual. There seems to be a disconnect between author and reader as well, which is demonstrated by the liberal use of Cantonese/Mandarin or whatever language they are speaking without translation or explanation. I feel like I missed important plot points because I couldn’t understand what the characters were saying, and the dialogue in this book was so important because this book was entirely driven by dialogue and the individual journeys the characters take over the course of the novel.