The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang (Audio Book – Fiction)

Writing: 4/5 Characters: 5/5 Plot: 4/5

Fine Chao Restaurant in Haven, Wisconsin, serves mouthwatering Chinese food to the local Chinese American community. While the jacket blurb promises us the dead body of the patriarch and all around not-very-nice-guy, this doesn’t appear until roughly half way through the book. In the meantime, we are introduced to his three sons (Dagou, the brash head chef; Ming, a financial success overcome with self-hatred; and James, home from college for Christmas) along with Katherine, a stubborn but no longer wanted fiancee, and an entire community struggling to define itself in an environment that is not exactly hostile, but isn’t exactly welcoming either.

I listened to this on audio so had more trouble taking notes and identifying quotes. The writing is very good — with an excellent vocabulary and the ability to tease out individual personalities and issues for each of the distinct characters (even the dog!). The racially based and often insidious experiences of each character was felt and reacted to differently for a more subtle and (IMHO) realistic portrayal. I found the book deeply interesting, but not nearly as comic as the marketing blurb suggested. I’m honestly confused about why it is billed as a comedy (I have a hard time laughing at other people’s problems unless they themselves are making a joke of it). I also found it less tense than I expected (which is a plus, as who needs more tension in their life?). I was impressed that the book didn’t resolve in anything even approaching a formulaic way — another big plus!

In summary — definitely worth reading, more family drama than mystery, stereotype busting, and full of character depth.

Thank you to RB Media and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book was published on February 11th, 2022.

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