The Wangs vs. the world

by Jade Chang

Paper Book, 2016





Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.


"A hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent--and about the road trip they take across America that binds them back together. 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. Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America--and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bookmuse56
This vibrantly entertaining debut is zany, compelling, witty and full of conscience. Patriarch Charles Wang, a Chinese immigrant made a fortune with his cosmetic empire but a not wise financial decision coupled with 2008 financial decision has him losing everything except his family. Down but not out, Charles decides that Barbra, his second wife, youngest daughter Grace, a high school student with a stylistic blog, middle child Andrew, a college student who is an aspiring stand-up comedian will embark a cross-country car trip from California to upstate New York to the home of oldest daughter Saina, a dishonored avant garde artist to regroup. As the family starts out on this mad-cap adventure, all grapple with what this crisis means to them as a family and as individuals. Through lyrical language, humor, and wry cultural observations this charming novel soars. Each of the colorful cast of characters has their own story which adds a layer of heartwarming complexity overflowing with genuine emotions.
This delightful book has a something for everyone – relationship drama, comedy, passion, intrigue, introspection, and most importantly the meaning of family. Wang’s expert storytelling has our rapt attention right up to the last page when the ending becomes the readers – a very nice touch!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member melissarochelle
Read from September 06 to 11, 2016

Simple: a funny family road-trip novel. Less simple: a Chinese businessman builds his empire in America only to lose everything thanks to The Great Recession and some questionable choices. We get background info and learn about the family through multiple perspectives -- the children, the wife, the car they drive. It is a book I wanted to get back to (which hasn't happened a lot lately) and one I was sad to finish.… (more)
LibraryThing member maneekuhi
The "Wangs", contrary to some marketing descriptions, is not "outrageously funny". It's not even mildly amusing. I quit at the 50% mark; I will not finish this book. I did not like a single character, it spent most of the first half giving a lot of background that was neither interesting nor necessary. There are tons of Chinese phrases, some translated, some not. You can get away with that with many European tongues because the reader can guess the meaning given a word or two, or imagine something based of context. It is not a road story - very few descriptions of what's out there, what people are encountered. Instead, we have this very sour family that I want nothing to do with. And the plot sounded so interesting. Felt like this was a big waste of time. Very disappointing. I don't often quit on a book, and when I do I almost never write a review, holding out the possibility that even tho I won't be around for the end, maybe it will save itself in the final chapters........But I still had 200 pages to go, and I can't think of one thing I liked to this point. Life is too short, so ta-ta!… (more)
LibraryThing member Dreesie
I loved this book!

Successful immigrant businessman loses everything--business, house, cars, everything--because he got cocky right as the recession hit. The family--stepmom, 16 year old daughter at boarding school, son at ASU, older daughter in NY--pulls together.

A road trip, relationships, the art world, the fashion world, a too-nice guy, a girl who loves to hard, and "the land" back in China. It sounds crazy but somehow it works.… (more)
LibraryThing member bogopea
Read to page 120. Stopped. Initially, was thrown off by vulgar language in the first few pages but read on anyway. The book has too many characters and there is too much happening to too many people to enjoy the read.
LibraryThing member jmoncton
As a Chinese American I love reading books about the Chinese immigrant experience, and if they're labeled as humorous, even better. Don't get me wrong -- I also love the heart wrenching stories about slaving away on the railroads or facing discrimination after the war. But, sometimes it's the little details about growing up in the US with Chinese parents that make me laugh out loud. Like eating spaghetti and meat balls with chopsticks or always having Peking duck for Thanksgiving -- little odd quirky details that make me smile. So I was really looking forward to this book. There was lots of advance buzz about it and it seemed like the perfect fun read for me. I have to honestly say I was a bit disappointed. I liked the little elements of humor, but just like the Wangs take a meandering trip from LA to upstate NY, this story wandered around and I couldn't tell where it was headed, or even where it had been. I didn't connect with these characters. None of them seemed like the Chinese people I know. Did they get what they wanted? Did they grow? Was the ending happy or sad? I don't know! And finally, I found it incredibly confusing the amount of dialog that was in Chinese. And I have a limited grasp of household Chinese (wake up, eat dinner, wash the dishes, etc.). How did people who are completely unfamiliar with Chinese follow this at all? Maybe I would have liked this book better if I didn't have such high expectations for it.… (more)
LibraryThing member novelcommentary
The Wangs vs. the World is a debut novel from Jade Chang. It details the downfall of Charles Wang who had created a cosmetics empire after immigrating from Taipei.

"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."

In 2008, the recession and some poor expansion choices bankrupted his company; he has to let his very indulged children know their life is about to change. The youngest, Grace will have to leave boarding school, Andrew will have to leave Arizona State. The plan is to drive cross country to go live with the oldest daughter Saina, who recently bought a farmhouse in New York. The chapters alternate viewpoints of not only these three, but also the new wife, Barbara, and even the aging car. The road trip takes them through New Orleans where Andrew gets temporarily lured away from the family, thinking that he has fallen in love. Eventually they will make it to Saina, whose successful art career has also taken a bad turn. The final plan is for Charles to go back to China and reclaim the land that was taken from the family by the communist regime. That too is fraught with complications.
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LibraryThing member Itzey
Charles Wang has always felt gypped. Years ago the Communists confiscated his family's ancestral lands and Charles lives with the belief that he was robbed of his birthright as a landed aristocrat. His family was forced to join hordes of Chinese escapees to the island of Taiwan where his father built a grim little factory that supplied urea to fertilizer manufacturers. His disgraced father had been reduced to a dealing in pee. "Not even real honest piss - artificial piss. Faux pee. A nitrogen-carrying ammonia substitute..."

Sure that he could regain his family's fortune and status, Charles headed to the United States to sell faux pee to American fertilizer manufacturers. Airsick and relegated to the in-flight restroom, Charles practices his English reading the label of a mini-bar of soap and makes a monumental discovery...urea is an ingredient in this sweet smelling soap.

And with that discovery Charles was able to turn "Shit into Shinola" citing one of his favorite American movie phrases. In fact he made two hundred million dollars worth of Shinola and became an American cosmetics tycoon.

Living the good life in sunny California set his initial purpose of restoring the family lands in China way back in a dusty corner of his mind. He had the money but he was having too much fun with it. So much fun that he let it distract his best business sense and when turned down for a loan to start a new cosmetic line he put his his entire fortune up as collateral... the Bel Aire house, the cigarette boat, the children's trust funds. Everything.

The new cosmetics line failed and at the same time America crashed headlong into the Great Recession of 2008. Overnight Charles lost it all. And by extension his three children and his wife lost everything too. And he did all this in secret from his family.
After shocking his spoiled and pampered wife, Barbra, with the news Charles packs a confused Barbra and his childhood nanny, Ama, into the only car available to him...the powder-blue 1980 Mercedes station wagon long ago sold to Ama. Lights off on the old car they roll down the long driveway in the dead of night to avoid the embarrassment of discovery by their neighbors to begin a long arduous journey across the US to move in with their oldest daughter in her old farm house in rural New York State. Along the way they will pick up the other two children both away at school.

The children discover abruptly that their own world just collapsed; their lives reduced to fast food restaurants and sleazy hotel rooms as they travel cross country.
And this is where the story gets crazy. Anyone who has ever taken a family vacation stuffed in a station wagon with all their squabbles and perceived injustices can relate. As the reality of their sudden drop in social standing hits them, they all work their way through the emotions of loss and the realization that their future will be far different from their recent past.

Bumping along in the old car, we watch, look and listen as we are taken back to Taiwan, disco lounge or college dorm flipping around the past and present of each character. Slowly each character changes, often subtly, until this family discovers the heart is the true source of riches.

The book was hyped as hysterically funny. Nada. But I did smile often and found it entertaining. Sometimes I wanted to reach over and step on the gas to speed things up a bit. At times Charles was so shallow and narcissistic I was turned off. Barbra, playing the role of the unloved step-mother, discovers her softer side.

When an unexpected event turns the road trip into something much more serious, I was surprised. Talk about a knock up side of the head to realign your priorities. And the final chapters were very engaging leaving me sad and hopeful at the same time.
I couldn't help but think that this was a nice read but would make a great movie. So read the book, it will be out in October 2016. I am willing to bet you will see it screen soon after that!
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LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
The premise of this book is a Chinese-American family has lost their fortune, prompting a cross-country road trip from Los Angeles to a small town in upstate New York, to the one remaining daughter who at least owns a small house. Along the way, the son learns to perform stand-up comedy, the stepmother realizes she loves her husband more than his money, and the younger daughter learns responsibility. A good story, although somewhat far-fetched and less humorous than I had hoped for. Still, I appreciated the tale of a family that is both very American and very much under the thrall of their ancestral homeland.… (more)
LibraryThing member Dianekeenoy
While I didn't love this book, I did enjoy reading it. The extremely wealthy Wangs lose everything in the 2008 recession and leave California in the old car they had given to their elderly nanny. After dropping her off at her daughter's house, they drive across country to their eldest daughter's home in New York. Parts of this novel worked very well, but it was difficult to like these characters who made a lot of foolish mistakes. However, in the end, they discover family is more important...… (more)
LibraryThing member brangwinn
I’ve got mixed feelings about this story. All of the characters seems to be self-centered people. I guess money can do that to you. But I was quickly caught up in the story of the rise and fall of a Chinese immigrant in the cosmetics manufacturing business.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Chang gives us insight into her character's minds but we are also shown how the characters look at each other - these combine to weave an intricate web of complex characterizations. The family saga rings true on many levels - the inter-generational perspectives, each character's woes and the way relationships can evolve. The cultural insights are also a highlight. This is a book that makes us see into other world views, providing us a glimpse into what makes us human. It's nice to have it all packaged as a fun romp across country. The Wangs travel into our hearts.… (more)
LibraryThing member Neftzger
The Wangs are the typical immigrant family seeking the American dream of prosperity. After leaving China and arriving arrived in the United states, the ambitious patriarch of the family earns a substantial fortune and the family is living in one of the most exclusive communities in California until a series of poor business decisions causes the money to vanish.

The book is the story of the car trip across the United States from California to New York just after the family becomes destitute. Charles (that father) is dreaming up plans to regain his former wealth and status while his second wife and children are learning who they are and what they really want from life. This is a riches to rags story that features quirky characters, unusual circumstances, and the clash of cultures that all immigrant families feel as they attempt to reconcile where they've been with who they are now. Filled with some humorous dialog and scenes, this was an enjoyable read about the resilience of the human spirit.

Note: I was given a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member Carolee888
I really wanted to love The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang. After all, I have either liked or loved all the Chinese literature that I have read up to now. Also, my husband’s family name is Wang but there was a mistake during immigration. I had read so many reviews about this book being so funny, I thought I would love it. I did not find it funny at all.

Charles Wang, the head of the family had immigrated to the United States from Taiwan but did not consider himself Taiwanese. He had made a fortune with cosmetics in the United States because of a special ingredient, urea from a factory in Taiwan. There was a reversal of fortune and Charles kept throwing good money after bad. He lost his mansion, all of his cars and everything! He decided to take his family to New York to live with his oldest daughter. The only car left to ferry his family there was the one that he gave to his mother. The description of the car is great, the author has great skills of describing things. Charles’s second wife Barbra, chose to be named after Barbra Streisand. That is not unusual. I know an immigrant who took John Wayne’s name because he loved his westerns as a child. They have two children, Grace who is crazy over fashion and a son who is a part time comedian. The whole family is going. Charles is on and off dreaming of his ancestral inheritance in China. Somehow he thinks he can still claim it after the massive change that China has gone through.

I kept reading and reading this book, searching for the humor but when I found something that seemed like it could be stretched to be humor, it always went sour. After so many sour points, I even resorted to bribing myself with a chapter in a different book for a chapter in this one. The author is great at description and comedy is very challenging so I would prefer that she switched to a different genre.

Also the transition between the different scenes seemed abrupt. But the biggest disappointment was that a book reported to be funny was not.

I received an Advanced Reading copy of this book as a win from FirstReads from the publisher but that in no way determined my thoughts or feelings in this review.
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LibraryThing member bostonterrio
Hilarious? While there were parts of this book I found amusing hilarious is not a word I would have used. I am not sure how I feel about this book. I did grow to like the characters and was interested to see what was going to happen to them but felt some of them could have been developed a bit more. I did find it annoying that some of the characters would speak in Chinese with no translation given. I felt it was an unwelcome annoyance.… (more)
LibraryThing member miyurose
At the heart of The Wangs vs The World is a desperate man. Charles Wang has lost everything, and now he has to tell his family about it. His family — daughters Saina and Grace and son Andrew — has never known a life where they weren’t ridiculously rich. What follows is Charles, his wife Barbra, Grace, and Andrew traveling across the country to stay with oldest daughter Saina, and the ways that each of them deal with their newfound circumstances.

This was a book club pick, and I’m not sure I would have read it otherwise. Something about the description didn’t appeal to me, though I couldn’t tell you what it was now. But, I did read it! And at the end, my reaction was the same as everyone else in my book club…. a resounding “meh?”

I felt a little bit lied to by the buzz ahead of this book. I really didn’t find it that funny! Sure, it had funny parts, but I felt like the dark humor side of it needed to be pushed so much further. The characters are mostly unlikable, so without that humor I couldn’t find many reasons to root for them. Maybe I was expecting more of a farce, and instead I got something a little more depressing.

I wouldn’t not read another book by Jade Chang, but this one wasn’t for me.
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LibraryThing member Katyefk
Funny and sad story. The characters really suffered when they lost their money and all the attributes. Some inner soul reflections were needed and happened. Not sure if the insights will last for these folks.
LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Charles Wang was rich, having built a cosmetic empire in American despite arriving as an immigrant with (virtually) nothing. The operative word there is “was”. Charles has lost everything: the factories, the bank accounts, the many cars, and the Bel Air mansion. But he’s still got his three children, his second wife (but first love) Barbra, and a dream. His dream is to reclaim the Wang ancestral properties in China, for which he carries the deeds like a talisman. He just has to gather up his children from their boarding schools and colleges, drive them across the country to New York State to his eldest daughter’s house, and then he’ll put his plan in motion to make his comeback, this time in China. It’s going to be a road trip like no other.

Well, actually, it’s a bit like some other road trips, but that’s no bad thing. Jade Chang admirably keeps the pace of this gently comic novel moving by scrolling through the principal characters’ perspectives chapter by chapter. We see Siana, the oldest Wang daughter ensconced in her rural New York hideout (a recent personal and PR disaster has temporarily sidelined her artistic career). Then there is Andrew, at college in Phoenix but longing to be on stage embarking on his chosen career as a standup comedian. And finally, amongst the Wang children, is Grace, a style-smart teenager who is not quite as sure of herself as her demeanour and style blog suggest. Also available for perspectival chapters are the step-mother, Barbra, whom Charles first knew in Taiwan before he came to America, and also, perhaps oddly, the elderly Mercedes they are driving. Hijinks, some of them hilarious, ensue.

Although this reads very smoothly, far moreso than might be expected of a first novel, there are a few jarring notes. For example, one chapter breaks form to become a mini-lecture on the causes of the financial collapse of 2008. Siana’s relationships with her ex-fiancé, Grayson, and her current lover, Leo, are just implausible. And their is a noticeable tone-deafness when it comes to property and its obligations. Charles longs for the vast estate he believes his family once ruled in China. But if his distain for peasants and other chattel is representative, then his family is one reason why communism would have found such fertile ground in China.

Nevertheless, this is an easy read that skips along and is, at moments, pleasantly amusing. Though possibly worth the ride primarily for the spunkiness of the youngest daughter, Grace.
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LibraryThing member kristi_test_01
I didn't think that this book was incredibly funny, as it was supposed to be. But I still really, really liked it.

I think that Chang's strength is her ability to create realistic characters. I loved Charles for his big dreams, his constant belief that something better was just around the corner. After the accident, I loved Grace, mostly for her love for the world and her sudden realization that we're all the same, and we're all in it together. And I loved Andrew for his big heart and his notions that everyone should be just as sentimental and serious as he is.

The only thing I didn't like that some of the Chinese wasn't translated. Most of the time, you could use context to figure it out, but not always, and Google Translate wasn't very helpful.
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LibraryThing member asxz
This maybe the straw that breaks my camel's back. Just one too many workshopped novels that starts with a soapy story and shoehorns in something about ethnicity. This is no Joy Luck Club. It's just a tale of spoiled rich people losing their money and going on a long journey (geddit?) to find out what "really" matters. Oh, and they're Chinese-Americans... so... er... there's that.

The best bits are the interactions between the children. The worst bits are any time any of them consider in any way what their Chinese-ness means. It just feels workshopped and inauthentic including two separate scenes where a wannabe stand-up delivers excruciating sets about being 'Asian'.

Just not good enough.
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LibraryThing member Daumari
In short, I was entertained.

In her debut novel, Jade Chang weaves together the anxieties of the post-2008 economic recession, the sense of home (especially in immigrant families), and the bonds of family. Charles Wang, makeup mogul, loses it all and packs up the family (Ah-ma, his 2nd wife, and his younger two children after fetching them from school) to head from southern California to upstate New York where the oldest Wang child currently lives, hiding from the art world after a disastrous show.

Some of Charles' delusional mindset kind of reminds me of Death of a Salesman's Willy Loman- Charles is bitter about how America took advantage of him after he built himself as part of the American Dream, but he also holds onto this idea that he can reclaim Wang family land that was taken from his father by the Communists. Charles himself never set foot in China but only heard about the family estate's glory days from parents and older relatives. I do think there's a fascination for children of the diaspora to wonder what could've been, but as I learned from my grandparents, there's practically a cottage industry of villages welcoming a "long-lost scion" of the family then also expecting exorbitant gifts... that, however isn't a story covered in this book, though the ending hints at that for the Wang children in the future, maybe.

My favorite character was probably Saina, as we're both similar in age and in retreating after personal failures. Even though Charles is technically head of the family, it's Saina and Grace that really hold the Wangs together.

Minor criticisms- I am a middle-class plebe, so while I recognize that the brands the Wangs use/reminisce about are a language unto themselves, I honestly couldn't tell you the meaning of A Bathing Ape t-shirt or Smythson notebooks other than it's above my payscale. I also see other reviewers were turned off by periodic untranslated phonetic Mandarin, but that honestly didn't bother me- it'd be realistic, and you can context-clue in much of it. While I appreciate the way [author:Kevin Kwan|634694] does it with footnotes, the untranslated way is fine too (The Expanse is a show that does this with the Belter pidgin).
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
The characters were depressing and flat. This was a disappointment.
LibraryThing member Rdra1962
Decent beach read, nothing memorable.
LibraryThing member BraveNewBks
I started this book during a readathon because it seemed like a fun, easy read. Cross-country family road trip high jinks!

Here's what surprised me: I ended up having to set it to the side because I was reading it too fast. (And reading fast, for me, is part of the point of a readathon.) I kept hitting lines of unexpected loveliness and re-reading them, and finding myself wanting to sort of sit and enjoy them instead of charging ahead.

I don't want to overhype this book because I'm sure it benefited from my relatively low expectations going in, but I really love when a book surprises me by being more than what I asked it to be. This did exactly that. It was the fun, easy read I expected, but it was also a moving, thoughtful read that took me by surprise.

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Original publication date


Physical description

354 p.; 24 cm



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