The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Title: The Wangs vs. the World
Author: Jade Chang
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Genre: Contemporary fiction

Reeling from the loss of his cosmetics empire and, due to some truly bad decision making, everything he owns, Charles Wang is done with America. He just wants to round up his family and return to China to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands. And (ostensibly) zany cross-country road trip ensues.

The Wangs vs. the World ultimately fell flat for me. At it’s core, I think there is a compelling story about a different kind of immigrant experience. When the book focuses on Charles Wang, it touches one some really interesting ideas about cultural differences and the meaning of home and family. The problem is the book is also trying to be a comic novel about a wacky family adventure AND a story about the 2008 financial crisis.

One the wacky family comic novel front, the book just doesn’t work for me. It’s not funny, and, once you get beyond Charles Wang, the family members all either bored or annoyed me. Not in an unlikable character way. It felt like I was expected to feel some affection for these characters, and I just didn’t care. Particularly with the three children: teenage Grace who apparently exists to whine and wear clothes; college-aged Andrew, a truly terrible aspiring comedian whose sexual exploits take up an unreasonable number of pages in this book; and late twenty something Saina, a disgraced “artist” whose romantic travails I think I was supposed to care about.

My grumpiness with the children gets at what is probably my biggest problem with this book. In a book about the 2008 financial crisis, I am being asked to sympathize with a bunch of entitled rich people who lost money they did nothing to earn (again, I’m excluding Charles from this critique, though, while I’m ranting, it’s his bad judgement that created this situation. Seriously, I thought it was Business Owner 101 to not combine personal and business assets.) There’s a passing reference to the hundreds of people Charles used to employee, and it was at that point that the book just lost me. If you’re writing a book about the Great Recession, don’t ask me to empathize with rich people who did it to themselves. 

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