Published October 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: my ecopy purchased for my Nook
Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he's just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family's ancestral lands - and his pride.
Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.
I've started this review three times and deleted everything I'd typed. I liked this book; I really did. But it's been a month since I read it and I'm having a hard time remembering the details of it that made me like it and the things that kept me from loving it. Back in the day, when I was blogging like I was getting paid to do it, even if I couldn't get a full review written out right away, I'd start a draft and getting some rough thoughts put down. Too bad I don't do that any more, it would really be helpful now. Luckily, I read it on my Nook so at least I do have the things I highlighted! So let's try doing this review this way:
What I Liked:
I'm a sucker for stories about families, especially when they involve a road trip. As a veteran of many a trip in the family station wagon growing up, this book took me right back to those days, to the ways being stuck in that car and sharing experiences could both drive you crazy and bring you closer. When you can relate to a book that way, it's always a point in favor of the book.
Curiously, I actually felt a bit sorry for Charles which helped me care that his journey was a eventually a success and to know that I'd feel bad for him if it wasn't For a guy that had been smart enough to build up an empire to be so clueless about what was going on around him, and for his chances for success, made Charles more likable than rich guys losing it all usually are.
I loved the relationship the siblings had with each other. They didn't always get each other, they often annoyed each other. But they had a bond forged from the loss of their mother. And I enjoyed watching each of them grow throughout the book.
What I Didn't Like:
Ok, maybe "didn't like" is too strong a phrase. Let's say these are things that didn't work for me.
I sometimes felt like Chang wasn't sure if this book was about Charles' journey, or the family finding a way to overcome their loss, so much as it was a story about Saina. Chang spends a lot of time tells us about Saina's experiences as an artist and her fall from grace, as well as her relationships with men. Strangely, I felt less sorry for Saina than I did for Charles which may account for why I got tired of reading so much about her.
But then I felt like Chang also got a little long-winded when she went off with Andrew on his solo expedition. I just really wanted things to feel a little more balanced.
Things That Caught My Attention:
"The only people who still used mules for anything other than entertainment were the mujahideen and the Amish, both lost tribes fighting for the useless past."I'm pretty sure it would never have occurred to me that the mujahideen and the Amish had anything in common, but it turns out they do.
"He [Charles] wished they [children] could stay hidden away, with the damp, trusting little mouths, until they developed some sort of hard shell impenetrable to drugs or sex or disappointment or any of the thousand poison-tipped arrows the world might aim in their direction."Yes, yes, yes. Every parent ever can surely relate to this.
My book club read this book. We did a terrible job discussing it but I do believe there is a lot here for a book club to talk about. Family relationships, art, cultures, ethics, the immigrant experience, what wealth does to people. Also, I don't think I mentioned this yet, the book is frequently quite funny which keeps it from getting weighed down with its heavier topics.