Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Praise for The Family Chao, the highly anticipated new novel from Iowa Writers' Workshop Director, Lan Samantha Chang:

Lan Samantha Chang and the cover of her book The Family Chao
Lan Samantha Chang, Director and graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop

From The Guardian:

Chang’s prose moves with the unfussy ease of a shark through water – for the longest time you are just enjoying your swim, soaking up the story. Only midway through the book does it occur to you that a master hunter is at work: a writer cutting through the darker depths of what it means to be treated as an outsider in America.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Chang’s project became clear: to undertake an homage to The Brothers Karamazov, weaving in her own experiences as a second-generation Chinese American, as well as questions of what assimilation, and being an immigrant, truly mean after living in a place long enough to have ghosts there. Each of the three sons struggles to confront the truth about what happened to his father, and one of them becomes a public scapegoat; at the trial that ensues, they and other members of their tight-knit Chinese American community are faced with a new sense of how they are viewed by their white neighbors and, more broadly, by the country where they have lived for so long....Chang is the first woman, and the first Asian American, to hold the position of director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. All students now receive full tuition and a stipend, which had been one of her goals when she started at the program in 2006. There’s also far more diversity: “Aesthetically, the work that people are doing is more diverse, and the people themselves are more culturally diverse and racially diverse,” she says. “We’re trying to create a space where writing is at the heart of things—not people’s particular level of fame, writing career progress, et cetera—because it all comes from the writing itself, the work. We’re trying to give people a time in their lives where they don’t have to think about these other things, ideally.”

From Kirkus (starred review):

Chang’s well-turned third novel neatly balances two substantial themes. One is the blast radius of family dysfunction; the novel is largely told from James’ (more innocent) perspective, but Chang deftly shows how each of the brothers, and the partners, exes, and onlookers around them, struggles to make sense of Leo and his death. (Handily, the plural of Chao is chaos.) The second is the way anti-immigrant attitudes warp the truth and place additional pressure on an overstressed family: When one of the brothers faces trial for Leo’s death, news reports and local gossip are full of crude stereotypes about the “Brothers Karamahjong” and rumors of the restaurant serving dog meat. As with Dostoevsky’s original, the story culminates in a trial that becomes a stage for broader debates over obligation, morality, and family. But Chang is excellent at exploring this at a more intimate level as well. A later plot twist deepens the tension and concludes a story that smartly offers only gray areas in response to society’s demands for simplicity and assurance.

The Family Chao is also featured in: