11 Nov / The Family Chao By Lan Samantha Chang [in Booklist]
In her first book in a dozen years, Lan Samantha 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 multi-generational 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.