You had me at the first chapter. Barely 10 pages into The Wangs vs. The World I realized that Jade Chang has something special to say. At 100 pages I realized she has a message. Slipped into this road-trip, family journey is a commentary on American business practices. The Wang family’s journey tackles the most typical American themes: immigration, racism, self-made man, family and love. Each character could’ve easily been a stereotype in a lesser writer’s hand, but instead the 16-year-old blogger has depth, and the quiet, supportive Chinese wife has inner demons. Yes! This is what I’m looking for.
The Wangs vs. The World tackles racism in a smart, subtle way. The ‘American Millennial’ has become something of a stereotype (I reluctantly count myself as one). We are viewed as easy to anger regarding social issues, labeled ‘lazy’, but also ‘unlucky’ since many of us graduated around 2008 into a workplace that no longer existed. We are vocal on social media, and have given rise to discussions on issues that have always been problematic but were never given voice to. But we are also deemed ‘too sensitive’, as though we try to find problems where none exist. In my mind, all of the above is true.
But what really defines the millennial generation (or at least, what I hope will define us) is our stubborn desire to end racism, not by pretending it no longer exists, but by talking about it, tweeting, blogging, raging against the injustices until we cannot be ignored; until change happens. Racism is not a ‘white people problem’ it is a human-nature problem; it has existed in every culture. And what I particularly loved in The Wangs vs. The World was Chang’s openness about micro-aggressions, how what one may not think is racist can still be hurtful to others, and even how some Chinese can be racist too. Namely, the older generation. This novel is a beautiful story of one family dealing with modern American, and how they grow, mature, and discover their true selves.
As I was reading, I imagined this was how reading The Grapes of Wrath must have felt for an older a generation. Admittedly, I have never read the book (terrible, I know) but I saw the movie once, ages ago, (again, terrible, trust me, I’m well embarrassed), and I remember viewing it at an arm’s length. The Depression, dust bowl, and migration of an entire American economic-class seemed like a distant memory. That era was deemed, in history books, as a lesson to remember; however, it was so long ago I felt completely disconnected from the dissolution of that generation. Then 9/11 changed the America I knew; and after 2008 nothing was the same.
Perhaps the Wang family is the perfect foundation for the new ‘American Tale’. From the Oregon Trail, to the Dust Bowl; from the oil boom to Silicon Valley, Americans have a history of packing up their entire lives and heading cross-country in search of a better life. The Wangs, we learn, are no different. They are as American as the Joads family.
The Wangs vs. The World is a story of one family experiencing their individual journey along with the rest of America. What has always, in my mind, defined America was the struggle of our heritage. The struggle between the place we came from and the people we used to be, with the person we want to become. It is a commentary on a modern family; at one point the car narrates a few chapters because, by that point, the car has become part of the Wang family. Underneath is a story about the differences between generations, and what it means to be a family.
By the end, the Wang family members have their epiphanies (some more slowly than others), and all the while Chang’s prose is so well worded that mini-epiphanies are slipped into sentences without you even realizing. Her sentences are consistently smart, yet you don’t stumble over them – in fact, it becomes easy to read – and when you do come across a special sentence, you almost don’t notice the brilliance of putting into words what you’ve always thought but could never express. In The Vegetarian I wanted to slow down, soak everything in, while in The Wangs vs. The World I couldn’t wait to turn the page and learn something new. And isn’t that the reason we read? To educate, to open our minds, to learn.
Last Word: Read this, immediately.