the wangs vs. the world jade chang

THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD by Jade Chang [Audiobook]

The Wangs vs. the World
Written by Jade Chang
Audiobook read by Nancy Wu
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on October 4th 2016
ISBN: 9780544734203
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Asian American
Pages: 336
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased

This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

>Shop Indie Bookstores

THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD is an outrageously funny tale about a wealthy Chinese-American family that “loses it all, then takes a healing, uproarious road trip across the United States” (Entertainment Weekly). Their spectacular fall from riches to rags brings the Wangs together in a way money never could. It’s an epic family saga and an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America.   

Jade Chang’s debut novel, The Wangs vs. The World, came out around the same time as Imbolo Mbue’s debut, Behold the Dreamers. Both novels deal with immigrant families affected by the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession–it’s tempting to make comparisons. I’d love to do that too, but since that will only appeal to others who’ve read both books I’ll resist it in this discussion. (But if you’ve read both too and are up for that conversation, meet me in the comments!)

The Wangs Vs. The World (And The Banks)
  • What’s it about? Charles Wang came to America from Taiwan with nothing. Years later, he had everything: a cosmetics empire, a house in Bel-Air, cars, cash, and three American-born children. But when he risked everything on a new product line, he lost everything. All he has left is a secret scheme to reclaim something his family lost–their land in China, seized by the Communists decades earlier.

But before Charles can return to China, he and his family need to get out of Bel-Air. He and his wife Barbra set out in the family’s last car, with  daughter Grace and son Andrew, on a cross-country road trip  older daughter Saina’s house in the Catskills. They’ll bide their time there until Charles can claim his birthright and take them all back to his homeland.

  • Why did I read it? The comparisons I mentioned earlier made me choose The Wangs vs. The World as my next audiobook after Behold the Dreamers.
The Wangs Hit the Road
  • What worked for me? That little synopsis I wrote up there makes The Wangs vs. The World sound rather heavy. I don’t want to mislead you, though. The abrupt, literal reversal of fortune confronted by the Wangs is a serious enough situation, but Jade Chang has framed it with a comic road-trip novel. Her smart observations about class and culture are especially funny when they’re delivered through character dialogue by audiobook narrator Nancy Wu. The humor made me cringe at times, but I think that was a reaction to the sympathy I felt for this family. As Chang shifts narrative perspectives back and forth among the Wangs, we get to see them as they see each other. I saw a family I really hoped would land in a good place at the end of their road.
  • What didn’t I like? I realize that a comic road-trip novel requires mishaps, but at times I wondered if Chang was putting the Wangs through entirely too many of them. I wouldn’t have minded trading some plot for more character moments.
  • Recommended? Yes, particularly in audio. The Wangs vs. The World is a fun take on a family in crisis, filtered through an Asian-American lens.
THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD: Opening Lines

Charles Wang was mad at America.

Actually, Charles Wang was mad at history.

If the death-bent Japanese had never invaded China, if a million ?— ?a billion ?— ?misguided students and serfs had never idolized a balding academic who parroted Russian madmen and couldn’t pay for his promises, then Charles wouldn’t be standing here, staring out the window of his beloved Bel-Air home, holding an aspirin in his hand, waiting for those calculating assholes from the bank ?— ?the bank that had once gotten down on its Italianate-marble knees and kissed his ass ?— ?to come over and repossess his life.

Without history, he wouldn’t be here at all.

He’d be there, living out his unseen birthright on his family’s ancestral acres, a pampered prince in silk robes, writing naughty, brilliant poems, teasing servant girls, collecting tithes from his peasants, and making them thankful by leaving their tattered households with just enough grain to squeeze out more hungry babies.

Instead, the world that should have been his fell apart, and the great belly of Asia tumbled and roiled with a noxious foreign indigestion that spewed him out, bouncing him, hard, on the tropical joke of Taiwan and then, when he popped right back up, belching him all the way across the vast Pacific Ocean and smearing him onto this, this faceless green country full of grasping newcomers, right alongside his unclaimed countrymen: the poor, illiterate, ball-scratching half men from Canton and Fujian, whose highest dreams were a cook’s apron and a back-alley, backdoor fuck.

Oh, he shouldn’t have been vulgar.

Charles Wang shouldn’t even know about the things that happen on dirt-packed floors and under stained sheets. Centuries of illustrious ancestors, scholars and statesmen and gentlemen farmers all, had bred him for fragrant teas unfurling in fresh springwater, for calligraphy brushes of white wolf hair dipped in black deer-glue ink, for lighthearted games of chance played among true friends.

Not this. No, not this. Not for him bastardized Peking duck eaten next to a tableful of wannabe rappers and their short, chubby, colored-contact-wearing Filipino girlfriends at Mr. Chow. Not for him shoulder-to-shoulder art openings where he sweated through the collar of his paper-thin cashmere sweater and stared at some sawed-in-half animal floating in formaldehyde whose guts didn’t even have the courtesy to leak; not for him white women who wore silver chopsticks in their hair and smiled at him for approval. Nothing, nothing in his long lineage had prepared him for the Western worship of the Dalai Lama and pop stars wearing jade prayer beads and everyone drinking goddamn boba chai.

He shouldn’t be here at all. Never should have set a single unbound foot on the New World. There was no arguing it. History had started fucking Charles Wang, and America had finished the job.

America was the worst part of it because America, that fickle bitch, used to love Charles Wang.

 

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 7 other subscribers

ANOTHER BROOKLYN by Jacqueline Woodson {Audiobook]

ANOTHER BROOKLYN by Jacqueline Woodson {Audiobook]

Another Brooklyn Written by Jacqueline Woodson Audiobook read by Robin Miles Published by HarperCollins on August 9th 2016 ISBN: 9780062359988 Genres: Fiction, African American, General Pages: 192 Format: audiobook Source: public library via Overdrive This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.> National Book Award FinalistNew York Times Bestseller The acclaimed New York Times bestselling and National Book Award–winning author […]

TV (THE BOOK) — The Audiobook

TV (THE BOOK) — The Audiobook

TV (The Book) Written by Alan Sepinwall, Matt Zoller Seitz Audiobook read by Alan Sepinwall, Matt Zoller Seitz Published by Grand Central Publishing on September 6th 2016 ISBN: 9781455588206 Genres: Nonfiction, Television, History & Criticism Pages: 352 Format: audiobook Source: purchased This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.> Is The Wire better than Breaking Bad? Is Cheers better […]

LITERARY WONDERLANDS [Book Thoughts]

LITERARY WONDERLANDS [Book Thoughts]

I received this book for review consideration from the publisher, via Shelf Awareness for Readers. All opinions are my own.Literary Wonderlands Published by Hachette Books on November 1st 2016 ISBN: 9780316316385 Genres: Fiction, Literary Criticism, General, Books & Reading Pages: 320 Format: ARC Source: publisher, via Shelf Awareness for Readers This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.> A […]

Thankful for a Long Weekend [Show and Tell Sunday]

Thankful for a Long Weekend [Show and Tell Sunday]

My agency doesn’t give a holiday for the day after Thanksgiving, but everyone in my department took Friday off. I’m thankful for a long weekend and wishing it could be even longer! Paul and I had Thanksgiving Day to ourselves. The kitchen stayed quiet and we went to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner. I had the Thanksgiving Day special and my husband–no fan of turkey–ate filet mignon. We both got just what we […]

THE GIRL FROM VENICE by Martin Cruz Smith [Book Thoughts]

THE GIRL FROM VENICE by Martin Cruz Smith [Book Thoughts]

I received this book for review consideration from the publisher, via Shelf Awareness for Readers. All opinions are my own.The Girl from Venice Written by Martin Cruz Smith Published by Simon & Schuster on October 18th 2016 ISBN: 9781439140239 Genres: Fiction, Historical, Thrillers Pages: 320 Format: ARC Source: publisher, via Shelf Awareness for Readers This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission […]

CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD by Caroline Leavitt [Book Thoughts]

CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD by Caroline Leavitt [Book Thoughts]

Cruel Beautiful World Written by Caroline Leavitt Published by Algonquin Books on October 4th 2016 ISBN: 9781616203634 Genres: Fiction, Literary Pages: 352 Format: ARC Source: publisher This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.> Sixteen-year-old Lucy Gold is about ;to run away with a much older man to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that […]

BEHOLD THE DREAMERS by Imbolo Mbue [Audiobook Thoughts]

BEHOLD THE DREAMERS by Imbolo Mbue [Audiobook Thoughts]

Behold the Dreamers Written by Imbolo Mbue Audiobook read by Prentice Onayemi Published by Random House Publishing Group on August 23rd 2016 ISBN: 9780812998498 Genres: Fiction, Literary Pages: 416 Format: audiobook Source: public library via Overdrive This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.> A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the […]

The Last Post-Election Reading List (probably)

The Last Post-Election Reading List (probably)

This will probably be the last post-election reading list I share here. Perhaps the blog’s been a little too political for some readers recently. I got an email from Feedblitz over the weekend saying someone had unsubscribed for reason “02: Offensive, strongly disagree or disapprove.” I was surprisingly undisturbed by that. This is the space where I distill my thoughts on what I read and where all opinions are my own. I understand that you may […]

The Biggest Disappointment of This Election

The Biggest Disappointment of This Election

If I said that the biggest disappointment of the 2016 Presidential election was NOT the outcome, I don’t think you’d think I meant it. So yes, let’s stipulate that for those of us who are disappointed by the outcome, that’s the biggie. The disappointment is compounded by the fact that Hillary Clinton may have received close to 200,000 400,000* more votes than Donald Trump. (Or maybe more than 1.000.000*.) But they didn’t come from the right […]

Two Days After: Further Reading, More Links

Two Days After: Further Reading, More Links

Yesterday, I started the process of processing. I included some links at the end of that post. I’m recycling that list here, following some other pieces I found after that went up. Two Days After: The Reactions Keep Coming On “Woke” White People Advertising their Shock that Racism just won a Presidency – Medium Rage Against the Minivan: How to talk to your kids about Trump winning the election The Self-Sabotage of the West | […]

The Day After: Do We Have a Clue What Happens Now?

The Day After: Do We Have a Clue What Happens Now?

The Day After Election Day 2016: A Brain Dump “What comes next? “Do you know how hard it is to lead? “Do you have a clue what happens now?” The next leader of our country will be someone who has never served in public office before. He has also not yet publicly shown any real grasp of, or even interest in, how public service in American government actually works. NONE OF US has a clue […]

HIDDEN FIGURES by Margot Lee Shetterly [Audiobook Thoughts}

HIDDEN FIGURES by Margot Lee Shetterly [Audiobook Thoughts}

Hidden Figures Written by Margot Lee Shetterly Audiobook read by Robin Miles Published by William Morrow, HarperCollins on September 6th 2016 ISBN: 9780062363596 Genres: Nonfiction, History, African American Studies, Space Science Pages: 368 Format: audiobook Source: public library via Overdrive The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, […]

Where Did October Go? Updates and Whatnot

Where Did October Go? Updates and Whatnot

Where did October go? Since I didn’t spend much of it around here, I come today to answer that question. I usually post this kind of thing as “Show and Tell Sunday.” The “preparing blog posts on the weekend” thing hasn’t worked out so well recently, though. Welcome to “Show and Tell Thursday”! There were entire weeks where I got up each day, fully intending to go straight into writing on the book, and instead ended […]

This is How I Vote, 2016

This is How I Vote, 2016

How I Vote If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been sharing a lot of political stuff for the last few months. (And if you haven’t blocked me for doing so, thank you!) Today’s post responds to a query from one of my sharing groups: “What’s your voting plan?  Do you grab Starbucks beforehand?  Take a selfie outside?  Go before work, bring the kids, or get in line towards the […]