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The Family Chao: Book summary and reviews of The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang

The Family Chao

A Novel

by Lan Samantha Chang

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang X
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
  • Readers' rating:

  • Publishes in USA 
    Feb 1, 2022
    320 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

An acclaimed storyteller returns with "a gorgeous and gripping literary mystery" that explores "family, betrayal, passion, race, culture and the American Dream" (Jean Kwok).

The residents of Haven, Wisconsin, have dined on the Fine Chao Restaurant's delicious Americanized Chinese food for thirty-five years, happy to ignore any unsavory whispers about the family owners. But when brash, charismatic, and tyrannical patriarch Leo Chao is found dead―presumed murdered―his sons discover that they've drawn the exacting gaze of the entire town. The ensuing trial brings to light potential motives for all three brothers: Dagou, the restaurant's reckless head chef; Ming, financially successful but personally tortured; and the youngest, gentle but lost college student James. Brimming with heartbreak, comedy, and suspense, The Family Chao offers a kaleidoscopic, highly entertaining portrait of a Chinese American family grappling with the dark undercurrents of a seemingly pleasant small town.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"At once a brilliant reimagining of Dostoevsky and a wholly original and gripping story about the passions, rivalries, and searing pressures that roil a singular immigrant family."―Jess Walter, author of The Cold Millions

This information about The Family Chao shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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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). http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/a?id=188

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.

...17 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Lan Samantha Chang

Lan Samantha Chang is the author of a collection of short fiction, Hunger, and two novels, Inheritance and All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost. The director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she lives in Iowa City.

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