The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang is presented as a classic road trip story, however, there’s more to this novel than car troubles, backseat squabbles and greasy truck-stop meals.
Immigrant businessman, Charles Wang, is mad at America (or more specifically, its financial crisis). He’s lost his cosmetics empire, his house, and all the trappings of his luxury lifestyle.
“Payback for ancient crimes. Alright, let’s call it that. A karmic kung fu kick to the balls. But you know who’s getting kicked in the balls? Is it the descendants of those missionaries? The Anglo Saxons who profited from that original theft? No, they remain in their Martha’s Vineyard mansions, eating lobster and fighting over who gets to give Bill Clinton handjobs. And who really gets jacked off? ME!”
Charles pulls his son, Andrew (a wannabe stand-up comic) out of college; his teenage daughter, Grace (who spends more time on her fashion blog than her school books), out of her private boarding school, and packs them, his second wife, and their (fired but loyal) maid into the car for a trip across the country. There are diversions along the way but Charles has a plan – drop the family at his eldest daughter, Saina’s, house in upstate New York and then head to China, to reclaim his family’s ancestral land.
The Wangs vs the World is a lightweight cautionary tale, underpinned by deeper messages about security, pride and identity, as well as observations about the ethics of business, the value of art, and the world of finance. Chang avoids heavy-handedness by switching points of view among all of the Wangs – Andrew’s excruciating stand-up routines; Saina’s reflections on her faltering career as an artist, and Grace’s delightfully shallow observations about everything from the state of Florida and company logos to hotdogs –
If they were gong to be poor, or dead, what was the point of having the same exact deconstructed rabbit-fur vest that Kate Moss was wearing in last month’s Elle? On the other hand, maybe being poor could be kind of glamorous, with holey old t-shirts and guys who had to work as bartenders and whole meals of just french fries…
And despite their seemingly dire circumstances, the characters draw some astute conclusions about family, luck and life, making for a satisfying and thoughtful end to the book.
The people of the world could be divided into two groups: those who used all of their chances, and those stood still through opportunity after opportunity, waiting for a moment that would never be perfect.
3/5 A meandering but enjoyable ride.
I received my copy of The Wangs vs the World from the publisher, Penguin, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
The Wangs attend a wedding in New Orleans –
The South wasn’t how Charles remembered it. Where were all the biscuits and black people? In the twenty-four hours that the Wangs had been on the outskirts of New Orleans with Nash, all they’d seen were various incarnations of exhausted southern gentry, old friends of Nash’s who rotated in and out of his family’s ancient estate as if it were some sort of Gone with the Wind commune.
No biscuits at the wedding, but there is crawfish.