Read advance reader review of The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang

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The Family Chao

A Novel

by Lan Samantha Chang

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang X
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 320 pages

    Aug 2022, 320 pages


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for The Family Chao
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  • Jeanne, Alleghany County, NC
    Not Your Average Chinese Restaurant
    "The Chinese American Dream" is not necessarily the same as another immigrant's "Dream" or an American's "American Dream." (Olivia Murphy)

    Essentially, The Family Chao depicts a Chinese-American family's pursuit of their "Dreams" in a small Wisconsin town. Lam Samantha Chang (Director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop) uses a literary mystery centered on the family's restaurant to convey the themes of race, culture, parent vs offspring values, family bonds, and small town constraints. Through detailed characterization, a thoroughly engaging plot and just the right amount of darkish humor, Chang deftly reveals how immigrant assimilation both propels and hinders individual "Dreams".

    As the facilitator of a rural community's online book group, I will promote this book as a must read and look forward to a lively discussion! The pursuit of (and actually living) the "Dream" are universally thought-provoking topics no matter the composition of one's family of origin.

    Murphy, Olivia A. "Conceptions of the American Dream." Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse 2.03 (2010).
  • Susan B. (Hahira, GA)
    The Family Chao
    Families are always complicated but even more so for second generation siblings trying to navigate two worlds.

    Respect for old world traditions vs new world ideology often are cause for conflicts which drive us away but inevitably draw/suck us back in.

    Ms, Chang's lyrical prose paints a picture of intense feelings and struggles that keeps us turning page after page as we are drawn into this family. One brother trying desperately to win approval and honor traditions, another turning his back while attempting to ignore not only these traditions and heritage, and the third still just trying to grow and understand just who he is and who they are.

    A deeply engrossing, yet dark portrayal of tradition vs assimilation, family secrets, and awakening.

    A must read.
  • Julie Z. (Oak Park, IL)
    The Family Chao
    Years ago, an immigrant family from China moved to small town Haven, WI. There they have operated Fine Chao, a Chinese restaurant, for over thirty years. The father, Leo, is a tyrant to both his wife and his three sons. With nods to The Brothers Karamazov, we watch him rule with an iron fist, loosing his wife to a spiritual retreat, and his sons searching for their identities. With a mysterious twist in the middle of the book, Chang keeps the reader engaged throughout. Having just read Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang, I have been immersed in the plight of the Chinese immigrant trying to assimilate to our culture. Thanks for the review copy of this excellent novel.
  • Shelley S. (Great Neck, NY)
    A chilling family drama that will pull you in.
    After framing the lives of the three brothers and their parents in the first 70 or so pages, the book becomes a mystery with a possible patricide, obsessive, unrequited and first loves and ultimately a murder trial. Standing on its own the book succeeds beautifully in delivering a harrowing but poignant view of Chinese immigrants' struggle to find their part of the American Dream, and the paths and missteps the next generation takes to find out how they fit into this new, culturally different world. The other characters provide differing glimpses of their own aspirations- some large and some quite simple and small. Each character has complexities and evoked different emotions in the reader and led to a fuller picture of what life was like for people who were seen as "other". I would recommend this book to reader's interested in family dynamics, immigrant experiences, small town life and issues of guilt and responsibility. Plenty for a book group to discuss.
    A personal perspective is that while the book may have been inspired by Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov it does the author no favor to call it a retelling. Elements of characters and plots may be similar but the Russian novel written over 140 years ago and still read is primarily a meditation on man's relationship with God, morality and the psychological bases for actions. It sets a bar very high for a contemporary author.
  • Susan P. (Boston, MA)
    The Family Chao
    The Chaos, a Chinese-American family -- 2 (separated) parents and 3 very different adult sons -- have a well-regarded (by Asians and non-Asians) restaurant in a Wisconsin town. Pretty much no one is very happy (except maybe the tyrant father) and then a crime. Or accident? It's all very dysphoric but you can't stop reading -- what is going to happen with the sons? Love interests? And don't forget the cute family dog. For those who like a family saga with a mystery and a little revenge.
  • Carole P. (Natick, MA)
    The Famly Chao
    The Family Chao was not I expected. For some reason I thought it would be a warm and fuzzy book. It was not.Instead it was a complex read about families. I never read The Brothers Karamazov and didn't read the blurb on the back . I am glad I didn't. I had no expectations and so the book-pulled me in before I realized the intensity of the story. This was a wonderful book with a lot of heartbreak, frustration and rage. The writing was outstanding. I would give it an excellent instead of very good.
  • addicted to books/Mid-Michigan
    The Most Interesting Family Chao
    When I received a copy of Lan Samantha Chang's epic The Family Chao to review, a feeling of dread passed through me. How was I going to plow through a detailed history of a family whose names were going to be a bit challenging to remember?

    The book introduced the topic of food almost at once. Okay, I was interested. Hints slid in about there being a controversy in the Chao family. There was a murder. I kept reading. I began to follow the sequence of days right before Christmas in a certain year.

    Three brothers are dealing with particular problems: Dagou, secretly involved with Brenda Wozicek, wants his restaurant to succeed; Ming is trying to avoid the family's conflicts; James, the most Americanized Chao, tries to moderate. The various women have a strong grip on everything, and they make the story even more readable.

    I am amazed to report that the The Family Chao is my favorite work of fiction I have read this year.

    Step in, be enthralled at once: enjoy!

Beyond the Book:
  The Brothers Karamazov

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