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The Wangs vs. the World: 10/27/17

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang is set in the recent recession and follows a Chinese American family coming to grips with the reality of having lost everything.

The head of the family is Charles — an entrepreneur who had built a makeup empire and lost it when his most recent line failed and his loans were called in before he could secure more funding. With Barbra, his second wife, he and his son and daughter travel across the country to Upstate New York to his eldest daughter's home, hoping to make good on one last business deal.

This is one of those books where I started in print and just didn't get anywhere. Charles — understandably given his situation — came across as angry, distractingly so.

As I was invested in the book for the promised road trip, I was frustrated to have to wade through a ton of back story for Charles and his family.

But then I found the audiobook version, read by Nancy Wu. She brought the characters to life. Her performance contextualized Charles's anger and pride in ways that my inner voice could not. She was able to give voice and personality to the entire family. She was also able to smoothly go from English to Mandarin and back in ways that I cannot — even with it written out in pinyin.

Perception vs reality of character profiles. Wangs vs the World is the slow and steady downfall of a once successful businessman. In the spectrum of the road trip character, he believes himself to privileged — the businessman tycoon he once was — and able to set the rules as he travels. He further believes in the added protection of his family.

In reality, though, without the protection of his makeup empire and his unlimited funds, he is an old Chinese man with his family, driving across the country in an old car on it's last cylinders. He is trapped in a landscape of his own making, essentially a minotaur in an unsolvable labyrinth.

Knowing then that the labyrinth or cornfield is often tied to the afterlife or the underworld, the ending is by no means a surprise. For Charles Wang, it's in inevitable. All roads for him lead through the cornfield and into the underworld.

Three stars

Comments (2)

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Comment #1: Monday, October 30, 2017 at 02:58:04


I like your reading of the book. I remember it as trying at times, but I should have listened to the audio! Also, I remember the ending being an okay one for Charles. Am I wrong?

Comment #2: Monday, October 30, 2017 at 17:16:00


I took "'Daddy discovered America!'" as his last words. His family and the doctor are all gathered around waiting for the inevitable.

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