A hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent—and the road trip they take across America that binds them back together
The Wangs vs. the World is an outrageously funny tale about a wealthy Chinese-American family that “loses it all, then takes a healing, uproarious road trip across the United States” (Entertainment Weekly). Their spectacular fall from riches to rags brings the Wangs together in a way money never could. It’s an epic family saga and an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America.
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 fat...
New York Times Editors’ Choice
PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction Finalist
Winner of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award
Selected as A Best Book of 2016 by:
NPR • BuzzFeed • PopSugar • Refinery29 • Electric Literature • Self • Elle
"A fresh Little Miss Sunshine." — Sloane Crosley, in Vanity Fair
“Bright and funny…when the Wangs take the world, we all benefit.”—USA Today
“Richly entertaining . . . Chang’s smart and engaging novel remains defiantly cheerful. Perhaps this is because its ultimate subject, across a colorful span of geographies and cultural settings, is love.”—The Guardian
"Jade Chang is unendingly clever in her generous debut novel....As much as THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD is about Asian-American identity, it is also a sprawling family adventure compressed into a road trip novel. The result is a manic, consistently funny book of alternating perspectives as the Wangs make various cross-country stopovers in their 80s station wagon...[A] compassionate and bright-eyed novel." —New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)
“Sharply funny.”—New York Times
"Fresh, energetic, and completely hilarious, The Wangs vs. the World is my favorite debut of the year." — Jami Attenberg, author of Saint Mazie and The Middlesteins
"A moneyed Chinese-immigrant clan loses it all, then takes a healing, uproarious road trip across the United States." —Entertainment Weekly
"With mischievous, Dickensian glee, Chang’s prose power-drives the appealingly dysfunctional family, now a disgrace to the wet dream of capitalism, through their postfall paces . . . Chang’s confident, broad-stroke, and go-for-broke style makes her fresh twist on the American immigrant saga of the woebegone Wangs one of 2016’s must-reads . . . You will laugh your ass off while learning a thing or two about buying into, and then having to bail on, the American dream. But mostly, you’ll get to savor, thanks to a wildly innovative plot twist, the I Chang of this diabolical dramedy: how it’s love, not money, that really makes the world, and all the people in it, go round."—Elle
“It all comes crashing down for Charles Wang, so he and his family hit the road. This endearing debut is more fun than you’d expect from a trip with this backdrop.”—Marie Claire
“On the brink of financial ruin, Charles Wang has a plan to start over in his homeland of China. But first, he has to reunite the fam via a madcap, cross-country road trip from their palatial Bel Air digs.”—Cosmopolitan
"a highly entertaining debut novel . . . A meditation on what it means to be an immigrant in America, The Wangs vs. the World shows the often surprising ways hardship can bring a dysfunctional family closer together." —BuzzFeed
"[Chang's] book is unrelentingly fun, but it's also raw and profane — a story of fierce pride, fierce anger, and even fiercer love....The Wangs vs. the World drives home the fact that there is no one immigrant experience — just humanity in all its glorious, sloppy complexity, doing its best to survive and thrive despite the whims of society and circumstance. With plenty of laughs, both bitter and sweet, along the way."—NPR.org
"One of the best debut novels of 2016, this warmhearted, wide-ranging novel tells the wholly modern story of the Wang family: Father Charles has had his fortune decimated by the financial crisis, so he wants to corral his family, return to China, and start all over. But first, everyone—Charles, his wife, and their three children—has to sort out the tangles of their lives." —Estelle Tang on Elle.com
"Chang is a former journalist, but her debut novel has already been praised by the wonderful Jami Attenberg, so you know it's going to be good. The book deals with the trials and triumphs of a Chinese-American immigrant family who made it big and then lost it all. and then decided to take a road trip. It's poignant, hilarious, and a truly noteworthy debut." —Nylon.com
"Chang proves a family doesn't need to be dysfunctional to be interesting, that genuine and fervent love among family members will make you root for their successes even more. I couldn't get enough of the Wangs. The book is done but I miss them like old friends."—BuzzFeed
"The Wangs had it all: a cosmetics empire and a huge fortune, but the financial crisis ruined all that. Now Charles Wang is taking his family on a road trip across America so that he can get his children safely stowed away and start his life anew in China. The Wangs vs. the World is a funny and touching novel about what it means to belong in America." —PopSugar
“Jade Chang’s firecracker of a debut knowingly and refreshingly breaks every unwritten rule of the Asian-American family saga, making for a blistering, high-energy read that’s worthy of its pre-publication hype.”—Newsday
"Meet the Wangs: a wealthy, Chinese-American family who lose everything in the 2008 financial crisis. In Chang’s big-hearted, hilarious debut, they leave their foreclosed Bel Air home and head out on a cross-country road trip in a desperate attempt to start over and save face."—PureWow
"A funny and heartwarming debut novel by writer Jade Chang, The Wangs vs. the World tells the story of one immigrant family — the Wangs — who achieved the ultimate American dream, only to have it snatched away from them entirely by the financial crisis. Gone with their dreams is also their family unity, and all Charles Wang—the head of this fractured family — wants to do is return to China and begin anew. But first he must take an epic road trip across the United States, from California to New York, that will force him to not only look at America, but at his American dreams (and family) in a new (and even better) light."—Bustle
"Art, stand-up comedy, beauty, style blogs and financial ruin come together in a road trip from Bel-Air to upstate New York. Running away has never been so entertaining."—Fort Worth Star Telegram
"I love The Wangs vs The World so, so much. If you're looking for something that you won't be able to put down, definitely pick this one up...it might be my favorite debut of the year. It just kind of rings all the bells for me: it's smart, the writing is great, the story is really interesting, the characters are funny, it doesn't take itself too seriously but it's about a serious thing. I just really, really loved it."—Rebecca Schinsky, BookRiot
“A funny, feeling novel about an immigrant family (and its patriarch) who must choose between old and new, a clean slate and solidarity.&rdq...
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