The Family Chao

A Novel

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Pub Date 01 Feb 2022 | Archive Date 31 Jan 2022

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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, happy to ignore any unsavory whispers about the family owners. But when brash, charismatic, and tyrannical patriarch Leo Chao is found dead—presumed murdered—his sons discover that 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.

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 author of a collection of short fiction, Hunger, and two novels, Inheritance and All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost. The director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she lives in Iowa City.

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...

A Note From the Publisher

LibraryReads votes due by 1/1/22.

LibraryReads votes due by 1/1/22.

Advance Praise

"The Brothers Karamazov set in a Chinese restaurant in Midwest... Chang is a virtuoso with situations and dialogues, and has a delicious sense of humor and a sharp eye for [absurdity]... One of the finest and most ambitious novels about America I've read in recent years." -Yiyun Li

“At once a brilliant reimagining of Dostoevsky and a wholly original and gripping story about the passions, rivalries, and searing pressures that roil a singular immigrant family.”—Jess Walter, author of The Cold Millions

"The Brothers Karamazov set in a Chinese restaurant in Midwest... Chang is a virtuoso with situations and dialogues, and has a delicious sense of humor and a sharp eye for [absurdity]... One of the...

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ISBN 9780393868074
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Featured Reviews

I knew I wanted to read Lan Samantha Chang's latest book after hearing her speak at a Booklist webinar. I was intrigued by her comment about humor and suffering existing together but rarely shown in literary fiction. Writing The Family Chao was a way for her to communicate what her childhood experience was like. She grew up in an immigrant household in the Midwest where they were poor but ambitious. Her family was loud, and laughed and yelled at each other, yet had so much warmth and a sense that they were in it together. Chang discovered that Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov was a great outline for telling the story she wanted to tell.

In the first part of The Family Chao, we meet the three Chinese American brothers who have each inherited some characteristics of their father, Leo. Dagou is handsome, loud, full of passion and desire. He has been living at home in Haven, Wisconsin for the past six years and helping his father with the family restaurant. Ming is the intellectual who has become successful to beat everyone who had bullied him during his childhood. He has detached from his family and lives in Manhattan. James, the good son, is an unambitious pre-med student who wants love more than anything else. Their mother, Winnie, has left their father and lives in the Buddhist Spiritual House. She has called her sons home shortly before Christmas for a luncheon at the temple where the spiritual leader will foretell their futures. I found the first part of the book leisurely paced and character focused.

The humor wasn't what I expected. Leo conveys physical humor through his obnoxious and rude behavior; he mocks everyone and everything. There is irony in Dagou's frantic spending to make the Christmas dinner an event of greatness. Ming's suffering prevents him from seeing what is right in front of him. James unknowingly does things that have major repercussions. There are a lot of references to dogs. The language Leo and Dagou used when talking about the female characters was crude and very sexual.

I started enjoying the story much more during the second part of the book - I couldn't put it down. I loved the intricate story full of foreshadowing details. I loved how you learn what really happened. I keep thinking about these characters days after finishing the book. I'd like to read another book where the women are the protagonists; Katherine was my favorite. I loved the intimate picture of the family's life and how the three brothers understand so much more by the end of the book. Highly recommend, especially for readers who like themes of family gatherings or immigrant experiences.

Thank you to NetGalley and Norton for the ARC!

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This was an absolutely fantastic book. This is a truly Shakespearean family drama, and the Dostoyevsky influence is clearly there, but it's fresh and original all the same. I cannot wait for this to come out and win all kinds of awards, and the inevitable movie that will be made of it. It was a bit slow or meditative in the first half, but all of the set-up is necessary for the compelling dominoes that occur in the second. I'd recommend this to anyone.

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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 Chang 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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The Family Chao is the story of an immigrant family with three sons who have run a restaurant in Haven, Wisconsin . After the annual Christmas party at the restaurant, the father is found frozen to death in the walk in freezer - an accident or murder? The relationships of the sons and father are revealed, as well as the brothers' relationships with each other. Each had their own expectations of what their life would be like. It reveals how the family is perceived by the small Chinese community, and that despite the number of years in Haven, they are still considered outsiders.
Honest portrayal of what immigrant families endure in their struggle to survive in a foreign land where they are always considered to be outsiders.
Thanks to NetGalley for a copy.

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Thank you to W. W. Norton & Company and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang is anazing Chinese-American novel that will appeal to fans of Family Trust by Kathy Wang and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The story involves a family Chinese restaurant in Haven, Wisconsin, which is run by patriarch Leo Chao, and his three sons. All is not well in the family though. The sons each have complicated relationships, and none of them particularly like their father. Then, Leo Chao turns up dead. Did one of his sons kill him?

Here is a lovely excerpt from an opening chapter:

"For thirty-five years, everyone supported Leo Chao's restaurant. Introducing choosy newcomers by showing off some real Chinese food in Haven, Wisconsin. Bringing children, parents, grandparents not wanting to dine out with the Americans, not wanting to think about which fork to use. You could say the manifold tensions of life in the new country - the focus on the future, tracking incremental gains and losses - were relieved by the Fine Chao. Sitting down under the dusty red lanterns, gazing at Leo's latest calendar with the limp-haired Taiwanese sylphs that Winnie hated so much, waiting for supper, everyone felt calm. In dark times, when you're feeling homesick or defeated, there is really nothing like a good, steaming soup, and dumplings made from scratch."

Overall, The Family Chao is a stunning work of literary fiction that is at times, suspenseful and, at times, humorous. One highlight of this book is that this is an #ownvoices book by a Chinese-American author. As a reader of Chinese descent, I am so happy to support this author! I hope that more works by authors of Chinese descent will be published. There were many moments where I related to the family described in the book. Also, I hope that this book will educate some people about the experiences of Chinese-Americans in America. If you're intrigued by the excerpt above, or if you're a fan of #ownvoices novels, I highly recommend that you check out this book when it comes out in February!

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A "gripping literary mystery..." Yes, Please! The Family Chao narrative revolves around the Fine Chao Restaurant - an Americanized Chinese Food restaurant located in Wisconsin for over 35 years. Modeled on the "The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky), this story focuses on the patriarch, Leo Chao rules his family of three boys with an iron fist sharp tongue.

The three sons have taken different paths as 2nd generation Chinese Americans and their relationship to their father mirrors the famous Karamazov novel. The first half of the novel sets the scene and introduces all of the characters: neighbors, relatives, nuns, restaurant workers, romantic interests and enemies. It's not until the second half that a murder occurs and the mystery needs to be solved.

The real story of this book, in my opinion, is how to happily be American as each character expresses their aspirations and grasps at the future. If you like literary novels such as The Brothers Karamazov, generational family tales, small town complexities, literary mysteries, you will surely love this book. There is something in it for everyone. #NetGalley #TheFamilyChao #WWNortonPublishing

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I really loved this book. Chinese-American family drama, wonderful descriptions of food, a murder mystery in the 2nd half. It's so detailed and engaging. Some Succession vibes, as well as Big Night, a little quirky in spots,'s just a really wonderful story.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!

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Throughout The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang, you will find a lot of giving and taking. This is a very engaging Shakespearean drama about a family.

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AHHHHHHH I LOVED THIS SO MUCH!! I am an absolute sucker for a good retelling and since i had never read a retelling of the brothers karamazov i knew i had to read this!! This is a fantastic book and truly an amazing look inside a family. The dostoyevsky influence is clear but this book never feels redundant. I loved this! Highly recommend.

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Modeled on the Brothers Karamazov from a contemporary Chinese American perspective, The Family Chao is the story of three brothers at very different places in their lives who come together for a Christmas dinner at their family’s restaurant, a gathering with consequences beyond what any of them could have imagined. Chang’s story is a delightful and fast-paced murder mystery full of relatable but incredibly flawed characters, exploring issues of family, race, and defeated dreams.

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The Chao family of The Family Chao is no simpler and a lot more complex than many other families, just as Chang's wonderful book is much more layered and nuanced than many other family dramas. Woven throughout the story of each of three son's place in the family is a sharp focus on being the children of non-white immigrants and the self-loathing that it imbues. Insightful, beautifully written, and all-engrossing, The Family Chao reveals much about each reader, sometimes in unsettling ways. I look forward to reading more from this talented author.

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