Book Review: The Wangs vs. The World


As you may know, I'm trying to read more this year-- specifically books. I read a lot of articles and internet pieces but I genuinely haven't picked up many books since grade-school for non-academic purposes so I'm teaching myself to carve out time for that again. This month I told myself I had to finish the book I've been picking up and putting down for months.

I got a free copy of The Wangs vs. The World from Houghton Mifflin way back in October and finally got through it. Here's my take on it.

Centering on the fall of an immigrant family that "made it" and then suddenly found themselves "unmade" at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, The Wangs vs. The World centers on the family and their cross-country road trip to reunite and somehow reclaim their family's former glory-- once lost to the Communists, twice lost to America, where Charles had to start over, and now thrice lost to financial institutions.

This book is not "hilarious" but it does have some funny moments-- I would say the majority of the comedy is more in the absurdities of the improbabilities and indignities the family faces, which is a very common comedic sensibility in Asian immigrants and their descendants. The characters are well-written and multi-layered, each with their own quirks and absurd dreams which is also a hallmark of the first generation of Americans born to immigrants. The charm of those book lies largely in how very real the portrayal of the family dynamic is and the varying values of the different characters based on their generation, cultural upbringing, and social standing-- unique to each character despite their all being a family. 

My two main grievances with the book are these: First, I did not like the Charles, the patriarch, at all. He's the kind of man I have known very well in life and I find him insufferable. The story, though very much about everyone else as much as him is set in motion because of him. It begins with him and ends with him. To me he is the epitome of the idea of "loving your family, without liking them." He is the father that his children love, but don't really like. The story really did feel like, for all its expansion on the other characters, a universe built around him and his own ego and its results. Secondly, I did not get much closure from the book's end, which I will not detail, but I'd say I felt that only 60% of the emotional loose ends were tied up and the floor fell out below me on the last page. And not in a powerful way, just in a bewildering way that had me feeling like I should have read a version with about 30 more pages to wrap everything up.

Overall it's a decent read, and as someone who is trying to read more books by and about Asian Americans, it definitely represented the family dynamics in a robust and real way. It's a little crass, a little too-honest, and very much about humor in situations moreso than the turn-of-phrase in the narration. Perhaps it's just not for someone who is turned off by stories centered on a patriarch and how his mistakes affect everyone else. 

This review is also available on my goodreads account-- if you're a user too, feel free to connect with me there an recommend some books to me!
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