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Lan Samantha Chang

Author of The Family Chao

10+ Works 1,135 Members 61 Reviews 1 Favorited

About the Author

Lan Samantha Chang was born, 1965, and raised in Appleton, Wisconsin. She is the daughter of Chinese parents who survived the World War II Japanese occupation of China and later immigrated to the United States. Chang attended Yale University, first as a premedical student and then as an East Asian show more studies major. She went on to earn an M.F.A. at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. In her fiction, she focuses on the fragility of family relationships and the Chinese American immigrant experience. Chang's "Pipa's Story" was selected for Best American Short Stories 1994. Her books include All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost (W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), Hunger (W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), Inheritance (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004). (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Photo by Miranda Meyer

Works by Lan Samantha Chang

Associated Works

The Best American Short Stories 1996 (1996) — Contributor — 249 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1994 (1994) — Contributor — 243 copies
Death by Pad Thai: And Other Unforgettable Meals (2015) — Author, some editions — 82 copies
Double Bind: Women on Ambition (2017) — Contributor — 68 copies
Asian-American Literature: An Anthology (2000) — Contributor — 31 copies


Common Knowledge



read this as a shared read in TIOLI, "family". I have had this on my phone it was a free audiofile Sync program. This one explores the experience of American Chinese, adopted Chinese, and Chinese illegal immigrant. Very interesting to look at these different perspectives. I fault this book for sexual detail and not sure that I would recommend this as a young adult book. I gave it 3 stars. Besides a book about family/siblings, it is also a mystery.
Kristelh | 14 other reviews | May 13, 2024 |
The book was very uneven. For example, the first half is takes place over just a few days. The 2nd half takes huge leaps of time. And there are unexplained gaps in the narrative. For example, Ming ends up in the hospital with no explanation why?! On the other hand, the narrative repeatedly talks about the key to the freezer making it painfully obvious what was going to happen.

And Leo was such an extreme caricature that I was constantly taken out of the story and questioning: Could a father actually be like this? And other parts were just absurd. The Christmas dinner was too hard to believe. How could people eat and drink so much?

I almost put it down around page 80 until I got to the amusing anecdote about a town with two barbers, one of whom always has a terrible haircut. Which do you go to? A few things like that kept me reading. Well that and I had promised to read it for my book club.

I'd like to say the 2nd half was far more interesting than the first half but the characters were largely confused in their behavior and I became largely confused by them and just couldn’t care about them. I had so many questions about various scenes, people, and objects. I kept hoping the end would bring resolution and explanation but it just left other questions.

In total, it felt like the author had very little idea of how she wanted to write the narrative and just started experimenting, trying different techniques and then dropping them, moving on to others.

While I still enjoy stories without closure, in this case, I’m can’t say I enjoyed the book enough to recommend it to a friend. But I’ll stretch to give it 2 stars because I did like the contrast of the 3 brothers, their parents, the girlfriends, etc. It had potential but just didn’t do it well. And while I didn’t care much for the book, I think it could be turned into a movie that I would enjoy watching.
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donwon | 14 other reviews | Jan 22, 2024 |
Probably should've taken better notes as I went... I imagine this would be more impactful if I read Russian literature since I feel like there's [b:The Brothers Karamazov|4934|The Brothers Karamazov|Fyodor Dostoevsky|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1427728126l/4934._SX50_.jpg|3393910] references (it is explicitly namechecked as well). A family drama, lots of gray characters, and... the family tragedy is the main character, honestly? it was alright. I dragged it out by reading other books whoops.… (more)
Daumari | 14 other reviews | Dec 28, 2023 |
Lan Samantha Chang’s The Family Chao revolves around a Chinese American immigrant family settled in Haven, Wisconsin who own and operate Fine Chao , a Chinese restaurant serving the local community for thirty five years.

Leo Chao , the patriarch, is a domineering figure who is generally disliked and is just barely tolerated by his family and the community . Winnie, his wife , left him after their youngest son left for college and having forsaken all worldly possessions is now a Buddhist nun in living in the Spiritual House within their community . Her sons remain in close contact with her and love her dearly . Of the three sons William (Dagou) , Ming, and James –“ the handsome son, the accomplished son, and the good son”, Dagou, once an aspiring musician without much success, had returned to help his father when their mother had fallen ill six year ago and now works with his father as a cook in the family restaurant and has a complicated love life. He is target of constant bullying and berating from his father, tensions compounding when he demands to be made partner in the family business as promised previously. Ming, the middle child and most successful of Leo’s sons chooses to distance himself as far as possible from his father and the community in which he has always felt like an outsider. Academically accomplished, he pursues a life of affluence in Manhattan. Growing up Chinese American in a predominantly white community, his childhood experiences coupled with his father’s abrasiveness leave him struggling with feelings of self-loathing and a general feeling of disconnect from his community. James, the youngest is a kind hearted and sensitive premed student. He looks up to his brothers and is fiercely loyal. The brothers join their father and their family dog Alf during Christmas right before the family is to host the annual Christmas dinner at their restaurant. What follows is a tense and confrontational family reunion with pent up resentments, secrets and deception bubbling to the surface of what was already a fractured, complicated and dysfunctional family dynamic.

Leo Chao dies after being locked in the freezer in his restaurant and his body is discovered the day after the party. The presumed murder puts the restaurant and family members in the spotlight. Subject to hushed speculations, open suspicion and public scrutiny, the family must answer questions raised not only among themselves but by their own community of friends and fellow immigrants and in the eyes of law. Complicating matters further is a missing bag of money, the life savings of a dead man whose family is searching for it and that was mistakenly picked up by James who tried to administer CPR to save this man’s life when he collapsed at Union Station.

The story combines family drama, mystery and dark humor and explores themes of ambition, family, loyalty, mental health, spirituality , cultural identity, racial stereotyping and immigrant assimilation. The first half of the book is slower in pace, building up to the death of Leo Chao. The author’s sensitive yet insightful portrayal of second generation immigrant experiences and the struggles associated with conflicting expectations and cross-cultural identity is commendable. The second half is relatively fast paced describing the subsequent trial and unraveling of the mystery .

The novel is described as a retelling of a Russian classic, but I would say that on its very own , The Family Chao is a very well structured , engaging and enjoyable literary mystery. Thanks to NetGalley and W.W. Norton & Company for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
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srms.reads | 14 other reviews | Sep 4, 2023 |



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