Charles Wang is a man who thinks big. He came to America with nothing and found success in creating a cosmetics company. With his company, his factories, his wife and three children, he is the embodiment of the American dream. Then in 2008 he loses everything. But Charles would not be Charles, if he wouldn’t have a plan. His plan is to reclaim the land that was repossessed from his family by the communist Chinese government. In the meantime, while his house and the cars are repossessed, Charles packs his wife and two of his children into a car and heads off across the country to live with his oldest daughter. Saina, is the oldest sibling and a disgraced artist who fled her critics and career to a house in the Catskills in upstate New York.
While Charles plots his next move, his children have their own problems. Gracie is being taken out of school and feels lost, haunted by the loss of a mother she did not even know. Sensitive Andrew deserts the road trip to temporarily run off with a red haired beauty and to pursue his dream of being a stand off comedian. All the while Saina is trying to sort out her love life and the mess she made of it. Charles wife Barbra, is an enigmatic presence in the car, as in life. She is content with having achieved her one goal in life: to be married to Charles.
Jade Chang portrait of a family facing the collapse of the American Dream is richly detailed, with clever insights into the financial workings and American Culture as viewed by an outsider. But it is a drama, without much drama, a comedy without much comedy. It is a story that lacks a unique selling point. Something is missing, that would make this book truly engaging. This riches-to-rags story that does not go deep into the rags part of it. At no point does the reader actively worry about the Wangs and this has nothing to do with Charles Wang’s business acumen or lack thereof. It is a story which is not easy to engage with, possibly because it seems to keep the same polite distance, that Barbra keeps to the children. The writing is lighthearted and the narrative never runs out of steam. It is a compelling read, unmasking the American dream.
Published by in October 2016 by Penguin/ Fig Tree, 354 pages.
Review copy kindly provided by the publisher.