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BookBrowse Reviews 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
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2022, 320 pages

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Lan Samantha Chang presents a modern retelling of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov about the corroded relationships between a Chinese restaurant owner and his sons.

Readers in our First Impressions program had a lot of great things to say about Lan Samantha Chang's The Family Chao, based loosely on Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (1879). Out of 27 reviewers, 25 gave the book a four- or five-star rating.

What it's about:

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 a love/hate relationship with the successful Chinese restaurant owned by their mercurial and often cruel father, and their desires to follow their individual dreams. 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 family dynamics common in the Chinese culture. 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 (Irene H).

First Impressions readers appreciated Chang's rendering of The Brothers Karamazov with a contemporary flair:

What an amazing reimagining of The Brothers Karamazov! Had Lan Samantha Chang crafted a modern-day version of this all-time favorite classic, the 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 (Jill S). 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 (Lynne Z).

The characters and their relationships with one another were deemed both fascinating and amusing:

It's astounding how completely I was drawn into the dynamics of the Chao family's lives. The characters were extremely well-developed and laugh-out-loud funny at times (Judith C). I loved the mystery, the tension, the courtroom drama and especially the family dynamics (Lynne Z). 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 can be a cause for conflict. Ms. Chang's lyrical prose paints a picture of intense feeling and struggles that keeps us turning page after page as we are drawn into this family (Susan B).

Many found The Family Chao to be a riveting immigrant narrative:

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 (Shelley S). Through detailed characterization, a thoroughly engaging plot and just the right amount of dark humor, Chang deftly reveals how immigrant assimilation both propels and hinders individual dreams (Jeanne P). Like many immigrant stories, this one also highlights 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 tells the story so masterfully in a way that it is humorous and witty yet also respectful. It is difficult to approach these topics in a way that brings needed attention to them while also being honest and humorous. 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 (Louisa L).

Overall, the book was a resounding favorite, and a great choice for book clubs:

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. It's a great book club pick. There's a lot to talk about (Irene H). This was the most well-written and enjoyable book I have read in years (Judith C). After reading it, I am longing to discuss it with someone. Outstanding, Ms. Lan Samantha Chang! (Diane S).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in February 2022, and has been updated for the September 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  The Brothers Karamazov

Read-Alikes

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