Title: The Family Chao
Author: Lan Samantha Chang
Publisher: Pushkin press
Genre: Literary fiction, Mystery
First Publication: 2022
Major Characters: William ‘Dagou,’ Ming, James, Leo and Winnie Chao
Setting Place: Wisconsin (United States)
Book Summary: The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
For years, the residents of Lake Haven, Wisconsin ignored the whispered troubles about the Chao family, if only to keep eating at the best restaurant in town. But when tyrannical patriarch Big Chao is found frozen to death in the family’s meat freezer, scandalous events force the community to turn its attention to the three Chao sons.
Dagou – presupposed heir to the business.
Ming – accomplished city lawyer, determined to sever ties with Haven’s Asian community once and for all.
James – naive college student, who is only just learning of his family’s past.
When the family’s dog mysteriously disappears, and Dagou ‘Dog Eater’ Chao is held on trial for his father’s murder, the Chaos’ turbulent history spills into the public eye, while a small town looks on in disbelief. . .
Book Review: The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
The story revolves around the Chao family and their restaurant, Fine Chao. Leo and Winnie Chao are Chinese immigrants who operate the Fine Chao Chinese restaurant in Haven, Wisconsin. They have three kids, William ‘Dagou,’ Ming, and James, who are all attractive but extremely distinct in personality. Leo Chao is a dominating and vicious guy who never misses an opportunity to humiliate his wife and sons, as well as engage in any amount of dishonesty and deception. He is despised even by the immigrant community.
For thirty-five years, the citizens of Haven have dined and enjoyed the Americanized Chinese cuisine served at the Fine Chao, yet the three boys are constantly regarded as outsiders, with finger-pointing and name-calling, on top of dealing with their father’s constant tortures. Dagou, the eldest son, attempted and failed to pursue a career in music and has returned to the restaurant where he started working when his mother fell ill. Ming wants to have as little connection to the town, family, and even his identity as possible, establishing a high-flying profession for himself in New York, while the youngest son James is in college and aspires to be a doctor. Winnie separated from her husband Leo after their son James graduated from high school and became a Buddhist nun and now living a spiritual life.
During Christmas, the brothers join their father and family dog Alf, just before the family hosts their traditional Christmas dinner at their restaurant. A heated and hostile family reunion ensues, with pent-up resentments, secrets, and dishonesty coming to the surface of an already shattered, convoluted, and dysfunctional family dynamic. However, the next morning, Leo Chao’s dead body is discovered confined in the restaurant’s freezer area. Dagou, whose anger and threats against his father for a promised partnership in the family restaurant were well known by everyone, is arrested and prosecuted.
The restaurant, as well as family members, are in the limelight as a result of the suspected murder. The family must address questions asked not just among themselves, but also by their own community of friends and fellow immigrants, as well as in the eyes of the law, as they are the subject of widespread speculations, open mistrust, and public scrutiny. As we progress through the trial and the family’s efforts to clear Dagou’s reputation, more secrets are uncovered, while the true identity of the killer remains a mystery. The tale progressively shifts from the evolution of the three brothers to a murder mystery and a courtroom drama. However, the purpose of this story is not to thrill, but rather to examine the psyche of the main characters and the consequences of their acts.
The story of the Chao family isn’t just another murder mystery or a look at one particular family’s history. Amazingly, this tale is home to a seemingly infinite number of themes and ideas. We have the characters dressed in garbs of confusion about other characters and on the verge of self-assessment and self-denial. And as the narrative progresses, there are strange thoughts reverberating in the heads of the characters. It’s as though Lan Samantha Chang’s characters are being tortured by their own hopeless states, and no one escapes this anguish, no one! An important theme of the work is on the idea of self-identity and how suppressed or unspoken desires of one character can have an impact on another’s actions.
This great work of literature has a significant amount of depth. This isn’t just pretty prose; the ideas presented here are profound, philosophical, and significant. Astonishingly, author Chang has a remarkable ability to sense people’s feelings, and she meticulously explains why they feel and act the way they do in her tale. The Family Chao is a novel that is both grand and profound, full of grief but also gorgeous, philosophical, mystical, terrifying, beautiful, and not without its comic moments.