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The Family Chao
Cover of The Family Chao
The Family Chao
A Novel
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One of Literary Hub's and The Millions' Most Anticipated Books of 2022 A Goodreads Readers' Most Anticipated Mystery of 2022 An acclaimed storyteller returns with "a gorgeous and gripping literary...
One of Literary Hub's and The Millions' Most Anticipated Books of 2022 A Goodreads Readers' Most Anticipated Mystery of 2022 An acclaimed storyteller returns with "a gorgeous and gripping literary...
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  • One of Literary Hub's and The Millions' Most Anticipated Books of 2022
    A Goodreads Readers' Most Anticipated Mystery of 2022

    An acclaimed storyteller returns with "a gorgeous and gripping literary mystery" that explores "family, betrayal, passion, race, culture and the American Dream" (Jean Kwok).

    The residents of Haven, Wisconsin, have dined on the Fine Chao restaurant's delicious Americanized Chinese food for thirty-five years, content to ignore any unsavory whispers about the family owners. Whether or not Big Leo Chao is honest, or his wife, Winnie, is happy, their food tastes good and their three sons earned scholarships to respectable colleges. But when the brothers reunite in Haven, the Chao family's secrets and simmering resentments erupt at last.

    Before long, brash, charismatic, and tyrannical patriarch Leo is found dead—presumed murdered—and his sons find they've drawn the exacting gaze of the entire town. The ensuing trial brings to light potential motives for all three brothers: Dagou, the restaurant's reckless head chef; Ming, financially successful but personally tortured; and the youngest, gentle but lost college student James. As the spotlight on the brothers tightens—and the family dog meets an unexpected fate—Dagou, Ming, and James must reckon with the legacy of their father's outsized appetites and their own future survival.

    Brimming with heartbreak, comedy, and suspense, The Family Chao offers a kaleidoscopic, highly entertaining portrait of a Chinese American family grappling with the dark undercurrents of a seemingly pleasant small town.

About the Author-

  • Lan Samantha Chang is the award-winning author of the collection Hunger and the novels Inheritance and All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost. A recent Berlin Prize Fellow, and she has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Chang is the first Asian American and the first female director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She lives in Iowa City.

Reviews-

  • Booklist

    November 1, 2021
    In her first book in a dozen years, Chang (All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, 2010)--the first woman and first Asian American director of the storied Iowa Writers' Workshop--introduces the family Chao who, for 35 years, has been feeding grateful customers at their Fine Chao restaurant in Haven, Wisconsin. More recently, the Chaos have been mired in, true to their name, utter chaos with that capital C; Chang is especially clever with names throughout. Long-suffering mother Winnie finally escaped emotionally vicious father Leo to become a Buddhist nun. Oldest son William "Dagou" (Mandarin for Big Dog) returned home expecting to eventually inherit the family business. Ming fled for a prestigious East Coast education and enviably lucrative career. James is still in college and was supposed to become the proverbial doctor. Christmas demands another uncomfortable reunion. That this year is different is grave understatement: both parents die, leaving Dagou accused of murder. Glimmers of Chang's irrefutable pedigrees occasionally sparkle through multigenerational wrongs, disastrous relationships, and complicated expositions. Alas, tenacity is necessary to endure didactic screeds about race, identity, love, and loyalty for a perhaps-too-obvious whodunit reveal.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 6, 2021
    Chang follows up All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost with an ingenious and cunning reboot of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. The harrowing and humorous family drama is wrapped in a murder mystery about a family of Chinese immigrants headed by patriarch Leo Chao, who builds a successful Chinese restaurant in Haven, Wis., with his wife, Winnie. Like Leo’s Dostoyevskian equivalent, Fyodor Karamazov, he has three sons: the youngest, James, who’s lost his Mandarin; the middle, Ming, who now lives in Manhattan; and the eldest, Dagou, the restaurant’s head chef. All is not well in the family. The sons reunite in Haven for the annual Christmas party to find that Winnie has tired of her tyrannical husband and has left him to seek spiritual enlightenment. The locals, meanwhile, have turned on Leo, as well: some in response to his cutthroat business dealings, others out of racism. After the party, Leo turns up dead, the authorities suspect foul play, and Dagou is charged with murder. As in Dostoyevsky’s novel, there is a trial, and important Chao family secrets will come to light, but Chang retells the story in a manner all her own, adding incisive wit while retaining the pathos. In this timely, trenchant, and thoroughly entertaining book, an immigrant family’s dreams are paid for in blood. For Chang, this marks a triumphant return.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2022
    A Chinese American family reckons with its patriarch's murder in this modern-day reboot of The Brothers Karamazov. When James, the youngest of the three Chao brothers, returns home to Wisconsin from college for Christmas, he's braced for drama. His imperious, abrasive father, Leo, has driven his mother to a Buddhist sanctuary. The middle brother, Ming, made his fortune in New York to escape the family's orbit and is only grudgingly visiting. And the eldest brother, Dagou, has labored at the family restaurant for years in hopes of a stake in the business only to be publicly rebuffed by Leo. Leo is murderously frustrating, so it's not exactly surprising when he's found dead, trapped in the restaurant's freezer room, its escape key suspiciously absent. Chang's well-turned third novel neatly balances two substantial themes. One is the blast radius of family dysfunction; the novel is largely told from James' (more innocent) perspective, but Chang deftly shows how each of the brothers, and the partners, exes, and onlookers around them, struggles to make sense of Leo and his death. (Handily, the plural of Chao is chaos.) The second is the way anti-immigrant attitudes warp the truth and place additional pressure on an overstressed family: When one of the brothers faces trial for Leo's death, news reports and local gossip are full of crude stereotypes about the "Brothers Karamahjong" and rumors of the restaurant serving dog meat. As with Dostoevsky's original, the story culminates in a trial that becomes a stage for broader debates over obligation, morality, and family. But Chang is excellent at exploring this at a more intimate level as well. A later plot twist deepens the tension and concludes a story that smartly offers only gray areas in response to society's demands for simplicity and assurance. A disruptive, sardonic take on the assimilation story.

    COPYRIGHT(2022) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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