The Wangs vs. the World

The Wangs vs. the World

by Jade Chang

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328745538
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 06/06/2017
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 193,675
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 2.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

JADE CHANG has covered arts and culture as a journalist and editor. She is the recipient of a Sundance Fellowship for Arts Journalism, the AIGA/Winterhouse Award for Design Criticism, and the James D. Houston Memorial scholarship from the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. The Wangs vs. the World is her debut novel. She lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

Bel-Air, CA
 
Charles Wang was mad at America.
      Actually, Charles Wang was mad at history.
      If the death-bent Japanese had never invaded China, if a million—a billion—misguided students and serfs had never idolized a balding academic who parroted Russian madmen and couldn’t pay for his promises, then Charles wouldn’t be standing here, staring out the window of his beloved Bel-Air home, holding an aspirin in his hand, waiting for those calculating assholes from the bank—the bank that had once gotten down on its Italianate-marble knees and kissed his ass—to come over and repossess his life.
      Without history, he wouldn’t be here at all.
      He’d be there, living out his unseen birthright on his family’s ancestral acres, a pampered prince in silk robes, writing naughty, brilliant poems, teasing servant girls, collecting tithes from his peasants, and making them thankful by leaving their tattered households with just enough grain to squeeze out more hungry babies.
      Instead, the world that should have been his fell apart, and the great belly of Asia tumbled and roiled with a noxious foreign indigestion that spewed him out, bouncing him, hard, on the tropical joke of Taiwan and then, when he popped right back up, belching him all the way across the vast Pacific Ocean and smearing him onto this, this faceless green country full of grasping newcomers, right alongside his unclaimed countrymen: the poor, illiterate, ball-scratching half men from Canton and Fujian, whose highest dreams were a cook’s apron and a back-alley, backdoor fuck.
      Oh, he shouldn’t have been vulgar.
      Charles Wang shouldn’t even know about the things that happen on dirt-packed floors and under stained sheets. Centuries of illustrious ancestors, scholars and statesmen and gentlemen farmers all, had bred him for fragrant teas unfurling in fresh springwater, for calligraphy brushes of white wolf hair dipped in black deer-glue ink, for lighthearted games of chance played among true friends.
      Not this. No, not this. Not for him bastardized Peking duck eaten next to a tableful of wannabe rappers and their short, chubby, colored-contact-wearing Filipino girlfriends at Mr. Chow. Not for him shoulder-to-shoulder art openings where he sweated through the collar of his paper-thin cashmere sweater and stared at some sawed-in-half animal floating in formaldehyde whose guts didn’t even have the courtesy to leak; not for him white women who wore silver chopsticks in their hair and smiled at him for approval. Nothing, nothing in his long lineage had prepared him for the Western worship of the Dalai Lama and pop stars wearing jade prayer beads and everyone drinking goddamn boba chai.
      He shouldn’t be here at all. Never should have set a single unbound foot on the New World. There was no arguing it. History had started fucking Charles Wang, and America had finished the job.
 
America was the worst part of it because America, that fickle bitch, used to love Charles Wang.
      She had given him this house, a beautiful Georgian estate once owned by a minor MGM starlet married to a studio lawyer who made his real money running guns for Mickey Cohen. At least that’s what Charles told his guests whenever he toured them around the place, pointing out the hidden crawl space in the wine cellar and the bullet hole in the living room’s diamond-pane window. “Italians don’t have nothing on gangster Jews!” he’d say, stroking the mezuzah that he’d left up on the doorway. “No hell in the Old Testament!”
      Then he’d lead his guests outside, down the symmetrical rows of topiaries, and along the neat swirls of Madame Louis Lévêque roses until he could arrange the group in front of a bowing lawn jockey whose grinning black face had been tactfully painted over in a shiny pink. He’d gesture towards it, one eyebrow arched, as he told them that the man who designed this, this house destined to become the Wang family estate, had been Paul Williams, the first black architect in the city. The guy had built Frank Sinatra’s house, he’d built that ridiculous restaurant at LAX that looked like it came straight out of The Jetsons—stars and spaceships, and a castle for Charles Wang.
      Martha Stewart had kvelled over this house. She’d called it a treasure and lain a pale, capable hand on the sleeve of Charles Wang’s navy summer-silk blazer with the burnished brass buttons, a blazer made by his tailor who kept a suite at the Peninsula Hong Kong and whose name was also Wang, though, thank god, no relation. Martha Stewart had clutched his jacket sleeve and looked at him with such sincerity in her eyes as she’d gushed, “It’s so important, Charles, so essential, that we keep the spirit of these houses whole.”
 
It was America, really, that had given him his three children, infinitely lovable even though they’d never learned to speak an unaccented word of Mandarin and lived under their own roofs, denying him even the bare dignity of being the head of a full house. His first wife had played some part in it, but he was the one who had journeyed to America and claimed her, he was the one who had fallen to his knees at the revelation of each pregnancy, the one who had crouched by the hospital bed urging on the birth of each perfect child who walked out into the world like a warrior.
      Yes, America had loved him once. She’d given him the balls to turn his father’s grim little factory, a three-smokestack affair on the outskirts of Taipei that supplied urea to fertilizer manufacturers, into a cosmetics empire. Urea. His father dealt in piss! Not even real honest piss—artificial piss. Faux pee. A nitrogen-carrying ammonia substitute that could be made out of inert materials and given a public relations scrubbing and named carbamide, but that was really nothing more than the thing that made piss less terribly pissy.
      The knowledge that his father, his tall, proud father with his slight scholar’s squint and firmly buttoned quilted vests, had gone from quietly presiding over acres of fertile Chinese farmland to operating a piss plant on the island of Taiwan—well, it was an indignity so large that no one could ever mention it.
      Charles’s father had wanted him to stay at National Taiwan University and become a statesman in the New Taiwan, a young man in a Western suit who would carry out Sun Yat Sen’s legacy, but Charles dropped out because he thought he could earn his family’s old life back. An army of well-wishers—none of whom he’d ever see again—had packed him onto a plane with two good-luck scrolls, a crushed orchid lei, and a list of American fertilizer manufacturers who might be in need of cheap urea.
      Charles had spent half the flight locked in the onboard toilet heaving up a farewell banquet of bird’s-nest soup and fatty pork stewed in a writhing mass of sea cucumber. When he couldn’t stomach looking at his own colorless face for another second, he picked up a miniature bar of wax-paper-wrapped soap and read the label, practicing his English. It was a pretty little package, lily scented and printed with purple flowers. “Moisturizing,” promised the front, “Skin so soft, it has to be Glow.” And in back, there was a crowded list of ingredients that surprised Charles. This was before anything in Taiwan had to be labeled, before there was any sort of unbribable municipal health department that monitored claims that a package of dried dates contained anything more than, say, “The freshest dates dried in the healthy golden sun.”
      Charles stood there, heaving, weaving forward and back on his polished custom-made shoes, staring cross-eyed at the bar of soap, trying to make out the tiny type. Sweet almond oil, sodium stearate, simmondsia chinensis, hydrolyzed wheat proteins, and then he saw it: UREA. Hydroxyethyl urea, right between shea butter and sodium cocoyl isethionate.
 
Urea!
 
Urea on a pretty little American package!

Interviews

Jade Chang: How Life Finds Its Way into Fiction

When I was an editor at Goodreads, one of my jobs was to gather member questions for author Q&As. After sorting through thousands of queries I can say with a certain amount of authority that readers want to know one thing about fiction: Did any of it actually happen?

When it comes to The Wangs vs. the World, my first impulse was to say that all of it is emotionally true, and none of it actually happened. But that's not quite accurate, either.

In a way, every page is full of things that actually happened. There are small moments that I witnessed — like the man on a skateboard pushing another man in a wheelchair down the sidewalk — that became things the family sees on their road trip, and ideas that I discussed with my friends that became part of the Wang siblings' discussions.

And though my father never made (or lost!) a cosmetics fortune, my parents' shared backgrounds are the same as the one that I've given the Wangs. They come from families who for generations owned vast swathes of land, then lost it all during the Japanese invasion and the rise of Communism. That loss is the driving force of this story — it's a desire to recover his family's lost ancestral land that keeps Charles going after the collapse of his company.

But in many ways it wasn't my family's distant past that influenced the story as much as the just-departed present. When I'm asked about the three Wang children, and why they experience so little angst in pursuit of their artistic dreams — Saina is an artist, Andrew is an aspiring stand-up comic, Grace is a style blogger — I usually say that it's because I grew up in a San Fernando Valley that was very mixed, where a strong percentage of my classmates were Korean, Indian, Persian, where many of the people who were not recent immigrants from Asia or the Middle East were Jewish or Mormon or Jehovah's Witnesses. When everyone's an outsider, the term no longer carries any weight.

But it's equally true that I was able to write the characters that I did because of the lives that my parents modeled. There's a checklist for what we think of as typical Asian parents, and in some ways they filled a lot of the boxes — straight A's were expected, as were high SAT scores and college attendance, at home only Mandarin was spoken — but that was the extent of it. When we were kids, my sister and I joked that there should be a warning sign on our front door: "You Are Now Entering an Absurdist Household." Until very recently I thought that every family that didn't hate each other spent most dinners trying to make each other laugh. Turns out, they don't.

My parents were hippies who came to America in the '70s because it seemed like an adventure — my father had shoulder-length hair and a corresponding mustache and a purple dashiki-style shirt that made an appearance in almost every photograph. His favorite band at the time was Creedence Clearwater Revival, and he was getting a graduate degree in mass communications, back when that was still a thing. My mother somehow ended up with a degree in nuclear medicine, but she is also a pianist and a painter.

The thing is, this story seems atypical only because it does not get told to a wider audience; I can think of countless examples of immigrant parents whose interests were equally varied. To me, one of the essential truths of The Wangs vs. the World is that it is about immigrants who see themselves as being central to the story of America. And I was able to write it because that is the life that I have lived.

So did any of it actually happen? No. And yet, yes.

Jade Chang

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The Wangs vs. the World 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dis-jointed immature writing. Silly & jumpy plot, if there is one...
Anonymous 7 months ago
I found I enjoyed the story the further along it got. The Wangs are pretty fascinating. ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous 11 months ago
Wonderful written story that shows that love and family are really what it is really all about at the end.
Michelle_Palmer More than 1 year ago
I vacillated between a 3 and 4 star rating on this one. It was an enjoyable and quick read but after reading so many reviews about how "hilarious" it was I was confused. I expected it to make me laugh uproariously throughout and it didn't. The Wang family has lost all of their money so Charles (dad) decides to take them across the country to live with Saina (oldest daughter.) He picks up Grace (youngest daughter) and Andrew (only son) and packs them along with Barbra (stepmother) and Ama (nanny) into his deceased wife's old car and starts off across the US after dropping Ama at her daughter's house. There are several interesting and amusing interludes. Andrew wants to be a stand-up comedian so he decides to practice in a couple of clubs along the way. Grace is an aspiring fashion blogger but that plays little role in the trip. Saina is an artist who flew high before having a fiery crash of an exhibit. Overall it was a sweet story of a family finding what made them love each other and becoming a family again. However don't go into it expecting to find the "hilarious" story that is promised.
Piney10 More than 1 year ago
I give this a 3. This book had a very promising beginning but got lost in the middle through the end. It was about how an Asian immigrant, Charles Wang, made it in America on manure only to be brought down by the Great Recession and the resulting impact on his family. It also was about his yearning to go reclaim his family's land in Mainland China after his father and family were routed out by the Communists and left for Taiwan. However, what gripped me at the beginning quickly sizzled out. The characters were weakly defined, generally unlikeable, and the writing was underwhelming. I received this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Piney10 More than 1 year ago
I give this a 3. This book had a very promising beginning but got lost in the middle through the end. It was about how an Asian immigrant, Charles Wang, made it in America on manure only to be brought down by the Great Recession and the resulting impact on his family. It also was about his yearning to go reclaim his family's land in Mainland China after his father and family were routed out by the Communists and left for Taiwan. However, what gripped me at the beginning quickly sizzled out. The characters were weakly defined, generally unlikeable, and the writing was underwhelming. I received this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
BillR More than 1 year ago
The story is worth four or five stars but it suffers from the lack of a glossary for the unaccented pinyin words. It is ten years since I took Chinese 101 and there are probably readers out there who never studied Chinese. In the NOOK version, most (but not all) of the hanzi characters show as question marks or open squares. This is downright annoying. The editor who described the plot as “hilarious” needs a new thesaurus.
SUEHAV More than 1 year ago
I got to page 138 and quit. I'm an avid reader and I will give a book 100 pages before I quit. Gave this one a little more. A waste!
Dianne57 More than 1 year ago
This was a very unique and mind boogling book, and by unique I mean that if you love books that have a lot of passages that needs a translator but didn't have one, is full of shallow characters (that do grow a bit, but are still shallow) and seems to be written by a biased, prejudiced against 'white people' author - then this book might be right up your alley. This books description also promises that this would be a humorous book - no, not so much. The idea was a good one and that is why I picked this book - a rich family has to learn what it is like to be poor due to a bankruptcy and they need to do so on a cross-country trip. Spoiler, sort of>>>>does this book have a conclusion? Not really; at least not a satisfying one. In my opinion, it was more like the last episode of Newhart or the dream episode from Dallas (if you are old enough to remember those shows!) I started this book with my whole heart and full attention and ended up after about 40% just skimming a lot of it until something actually happened. Or until they switched back to English. ARC supplied by publisher
sandrabrazier More than 1 year ago
The Wangs are setting out on a cross-country ride in an aging, 1980 Mercedes. Charles Wang, a cosmetics mogul, has just lost everything he owns. He is trying to gather up his family, his daughter, Grace, from boarding school, and his son, Andrew, from college. They are heading from their foreclosed home in Bel-Air to his daughter’s home in rural New York. From there, he plans to go find his family’s ancestral lands in China. You can imagine the adventures they have along the way. At first, this book turned me off. I felt that the sexuality and excessive swearing were gratuitous. I decided it as only fair to give it a chance. As, I read, I came to know the Wang family, and I learned that these things really added to the character development. As the Wangs drove east, they changed, too. I liked how they developed and changed due to both the events of the trip and to the loss of all of their wealth. In spite of all of its humor, this is a truly heart-warming and entertaining story. I recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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