Read advance reader review of The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang, page 2 of 4

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

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:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 320 pages

    Aug 2022, 320 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book


Page 2 of 4
There are currently 27 member reviews
for The Family Chao
Order Reviews by:
  • Diane S. (El Paso, TX)
    Family Drama at its Finest
    "The Family Chao" grabbed me right from the beginning with this line from the introduction: "No one could have believed that such good food was cooked by bad people."From that point, I was hooked. The story of the Chao family is a modern re-telling of "The Brothers Karamazov" and deals with multiple themes: family dysfunction, the immigrant experience in the United States, race, murder, and mystery. The vivid descriptions, conversations, and development of characters were so well-written that I got involved in the story and could imagine I was there. This book would be ideal for book clubs. After reading it, I am longing to discuss it with someone. Outstanding, Ms. Lan Samantha Chang!
  • Lee L. (Los Angeles, CA)
    Brilliantly written!
    This one doesn't publish until February 2022, but I received an advance copy early for review and I'm so glad I did, as I enjoyed it immensely. Supposedly this is a modern day retelling of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, but as I've never read that Russian classic, any parallels were lost on me. Instead, I was able to experience Lan Samantha Chang's exquisite novel on its own merit and I was honestly quite impressed with the brilliant way that the story was told. At its heart, this is an immigrant story about a Chinese man named Leo Chao who settled with his wife Winnie in the small community of Haven, Wisconsin over thirty five years ago. Like many immigrants, Leo struggled to make a name for himself in a community where very few people looked like him, but eventually he was able to open Chinese restaurant The Fine Chao — though it can be argued that his true crowning achievement was having three handsome sons to carry on the family name. The eldest, William (who goes by the nickname "Dagou" or Big Dog), the head chef at the restaurant, is charismatic and larger than life (in both physical stature and personality), while second son Ming is the most successful, having built his own career and life away from the family; the youngest, James, is the good son — the college pre-med student who is passive, obedient, and full of love for everyone. All three sons are reuniting for Christmas in the small town where they grew up, called to gather by their mother Winnie, who has moved out of the house she shared with their father, giving up all her worldly possessions for "tranquility" at the Spiritual House that is run by Head Abbess Gu Ling Zhu Chi. We quickly find out that the family patriarch, the man responsible for serving some of the finest Chinese food this side of Wisconsin, is actually despised and hated: by most of the town due to him being an "outsider" whose success in pursuing the American Dream is resented by those in his predominantly white community who feel he is undeserving, and also by his own family due to him being a brash, tyrannical narcissist and philanderer who has no respect for his wife and also delights in mocking his sons (in other words, he pretty much lives for terrorizing his family). It is almost time for the annual Chao family Christmas party and even though things will be different this year with all the issues in their family, a tradition is a tradition and the party must go on. But after the party, Leo Chao is found dead — presumably murdered — in the basement of his restaurant and his sons suddenly find themselves thrust into the spotlight when one of them is accused of killing him. That spotlight tightens even more during the trial as intimate details about the family's dysfunctional dynamics are revealed — at the same time though, it also shines a light on the inherent prejudices of a seemingly pleasant small town when its people are tasked with determining the fate of someone they've never considered as one of their own.

    Given the premise of the story (a murder mystery involving the American-born sons of Chinese immigrant parents), I was actually expecting this to be a typical immigrant story, but it turned out to be very different (in a good way). Like many immigrant stories, this one also highlighted the hardships and sacrifices as well as the injustices that the members of the immigrant family endured, however what surprised me was how the author, Lan Samantha Chang, was able to tell the story so masterfully in a way that was humorous and witty yet also respectful and good-natured. Of course, suffering (as well as people dying) is no laughing matter and the prejudice that immigrants in this country face is a serious issue to contend with, but to be able to approach these difficult topics in a way that brings needed attention to them in an honest yet humorous way is definitely no easy feat. As a Chinese American daughter of immigrant Chinese parents who grew up in a household that straddled two completely opposite (and at times conflicting) cultures, I could absolutely relate to the Chao family at the center of this story. The idiosyncrasies of various members within the same family, the unique pressures that define the lives of immigrant families, the struggles with identity and belonging, the oftentimes fruitless but nevertheless enduring effort to try and reconcile seemingly insurmountable cultural differences, the micro-aggressions and unconscious biases that many of us who come from immigrant families can't help but be keenly attuned to (whether we want to be or not), the constant struggle between being embarrassed by and ashamed of where we came from versus a sense of pride and being grateful for who we eventually become — many of these shared experiences with various characters in the story resonated deeply with me.

    I personally found this book to be clever, astute, funny, and yes, delightful in the sense that reading it felt like I was sharing in on an inside joke with family that only those of us who came from a similar place in society would understand. With all that being said, I am keenly aware that other people who choose to read this book may have an entirely different reaction to it, which, of course, is fine. I still wholeheartedly recommend it, regardless.

    Received ARC from W. W. Norton & Company via Bookbrowse First Impressions program.
  • Judith C. (Melbourne, FL)
    I absolutely loved this book. I was captivated by the story from the very beginning. It's astounding how completely I was drawn into the dynamics of the Chao family's lives. The power of this author's words kept my mind racing and reading as fast as I could to see what she was going to say next. The characters were extremely well developed and laugh out loud funny at times. She was very good at keeping the mystery ongoing until the end. She even through in some surprises to keep you interested. I think. This was the most well-written and enjoyable book I have read in years.
  • Jill S. (Durham, NC)
    A modern-day Brothers Karamazov
    What an amazing reimagining of the Brothers Karamazov! Even though the brothers in question here are the three sons of Leo Chao, "the consummate American id, an insatiable narcissist, a shameless capitalist who wanted to screw everyone", the framework of the classic Russian novel and its themes are solidly cemented in place.

    Like the Brothers Karamazov, the plot is fueled by the relationship of a father with his adult sons. The older son, Dagou (like his counterpart, Dmitri) is in need of an inheritance, which is being withheld by his father, whom he passionately hates. The middle son, Ming (Ivan) is sullen, isolated and intellectually brilliant. Young James (Alexel), the youngest, is the likeable youngest brother and the moral compass of the book. When Leo, who believes only in the primacy of self, is found dead, nobody is unhappy but someone has to pay. Can a flawed but heartfelt Asian man get a fair shake in a quintessentially American justice system?

    Had Lan Samantha Chang crafted a modern-day version of an all-time favorite classic, this novel would have been a success. But she goes further, exploring the passions and rivalries of an "outsider" family in pursuit of the American Dream. Merging humor with pathos, Ms. Chang expertly navigates the subtle and overt prejudices and biases of "real" Americans toward Chinese immigrant families (even those who have been here for a few generations) and the plight of those immigrants who profit from the Dream while being held at arms-length.

    By merging a family drama, an immigrant story, a literary mystery and a deep dive into what it means to be American, The Family Chao succeeds on many different levels.
  • Lynne Z. (San Francisco, CA)
    The Brothers Karamazov-Chao
    Having enjoyed the Hogarth Shakespeare Project (modern novels by well-known authors adapted from Shakespeare plays), I was delighted to read Lan Samantha Chang's reimagining of The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. The author captured the same themes (ambition, betrayal, loyalty, rivalry, dysfunction, guilt, forgiveness, love) but made the story her own. The setting was changed to a Chinese restaurant in a small town owned by immigrant parents with three American-born sons. Although Katherine and Brenda had counterparts in the Russian novel, Chang's additional female characters were important to the plot and offered a modern perspective – Winnie, O-lan, Gu Ling Zhu Chi, Alice, Mary Wa and Lynn. The book was hard to put down. I loved the mystery, the tension, the courtroom drama and especially the family dynamics.
  • Irene H. (Saugerties, NY)
    The Family Chao
    It's been a long time since I stayed up late, unwilling to put down a book that has me in its thrall. The Family Chao is one of those books. Lan Samantha Chang has crafted a wonderful mix of family dysfunction, mystery, and humor. Her main characters are three brothers and their parents. Their lives center around love/hate relationships with both the successful Chinese restaurant owned by their mercurial and often cruel father, and their own desires to follow their individual dreams. Unlike other books with similar settings, these characters are not trapped in poverty or limited in ability. Each is talented and self-aware while also engaged in a struggle to break free of the life dictated for them by the restaurant and the Chinese culture of family interrelationships. In ironic prose and unusual turns of plot, Chang leads us through sibling rivalries, sexual coming of age, rejection of culture, and the murder of the patriarch.

    Using interior monologues from each of the characters set against details of what it means to be part of a minority population in a small town in Wisconsin, the author arouses both empathy and annoyance in the reader for each of the characters' and their decisions. The plot contains enough surprise twists to keep us fully engaged from beginning to end as Chang takes us on a fascinating journey with a surprise ending. The Family Chao is a great book club pick. There's lots to talk about.
  • Linda M. (Lititz, PA)
    The Family Chao who are they?
    I found The Family Chao an interesting look inside an immigrant family who have been in this country for more than 35 yrs. Although they had three sons they put all their future in their firstborn son. According to the family that is the way Asian Families are. But what happens when things might not turn out the way their hopes and dreams aspired for him? Does it cause tension within the family? How do the parents feel after working very hard to have a restaurant business they built from scratch and their parents placed all their hope in the next generation taking on their dream? How do the other siblings feel with their parents putting more love and praise behind the eldest child? Do they feel abandoned? Reading The Family Chao will give you the real feeling of this very large in spirit family and the restaurant they run and how each person's feelings effect the others.

Beyond the Book:
  The Brothers Karamazov

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Exiles
    by Jane Harper
    Our First Impressions readers were thrilled to return to the world of Jane Harper's protagonist ...
  • Book Jacket: Spice Road
    Spice Road
    by Maiya Ibrahim
    Imani is a Shield, a warrior who is renowned for her fighting abilities and for her iron dagger, ...
  • Book Jacket: A Mystery of Mysteries
    A Mystery of Mysteries
    by Mark Dawidziak
    Edgar Allan Poe biographers have an advantage over other writers because they don't have to come up ...
  • Book Jacket: Moonrise Over New Jessup
    Moonrise Over New Jessup
    by Jamila Minnicks
    Jamila Minnicks' debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup received the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Nurse's Secret
by Amanda Skenandore
A fascinating historical novel based on the little-known story of America's first nursing school.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise
    by Colleen Oakley

    A “wildly surprising, entertaining ride of a novel.”
    —Jodi Picoult

  • Book Jacket

    Once We Were Home
    by Jennifer Rosner

    From the author of The Yellow Bird Sings, a novel based on the true stories of children stolen in the wake of World War II.

Win This Book
Win Last House Before the Mountain

Last House Before the Mountain by Monika Helfer

A spellbinding, internationally bestselling family saga set in a fractured rural village in WWI Austria.



Solve this clue:

R Peter T P P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.