The narrative is full of sharply rendered scenes ... shines light on the childhood that continued to haunt Wang into adulthood, even as her professional accomplishments mounted. She is vulnerable in revealing her uniquely American trauma: a bruised wrist that never quite healed; a hunger that was never quite sated; a feeling that everything, at any moment, could suddenly be taken away. Wang, who is now a civil rights lawyer, is a voice we need. Readers will be grateful for the courage she has displayed in persevering and speaking up.
Qian Julie Wang exposes the darker side of immigration to America: the plight of the undocumented, forced to live in abject poverty in the richest country in the world ... breathtaking honesty and exquisite prose ... She shines a harsh but revealing light on the shadows of poverty, prejudice and life as an undocumented person, leaving her readers with a crucial and essential addition to the wealth of literature about the American dream, immigration and life in the world’s richest country. Full of keen emotional insight, gorgeous, heartrendingly lyrical prose, and the humbling story of a girl coming of age in an impossible situation, Beautiful Country is an astonishingly poignant and unforgettable book.
... a coming of age story that puts a fresh spin on the familiar tale of migratory hardship. There’s no sentimental ennoblement of poverty in this book ... With a child’s honesty, she shows us how struggle can grind people down, making them as paranoid and cruel to each other as the system is to them ... Wang picks up an important and under-explored thread, one that has been mined in books such as Katherine Boo’s meticulous exploration of Mumbai slum life, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: that being desperate doesn’t necessarily give you empathy. More often it makes you bitter and cruel ... There’s so much that’s predictably horrible about Wang’s experience that it can sometimes make for repetitive reading. But just when you feel like putting the book aside and making a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union in order to assuage the guilt, there’s a sharp observation or poignant remembrance that pulls you back ... I finished the book wanting far more about that emotional journey. In the final rushed pages, too much happens ... Wang’s story leaves the reader wishing that wanting a better future, and working so hard for it, wasn’t illegal in a country that has been built on the back of immigrants.
... powerful ... Wang doesn’t gloss over the hardship and trauma she experienced as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. She movingly tells how undocumented families like hers are often overlooked and their experiences ignored ... A haunting memoir of people and places that will stay with readers long after the last page.
... extraordinary ... With immense skill, [Wang] parses how her family’s illegal status blighted nearly every aspect of their life, from pushing her parents’ marriage to the brink to compromising their health. While Wang’s story of pursuing the American dream is undoubtedly timeless, it’s her family’s triumph in the face of 'xenophobia and intolerance' that makes it feel especially relevant today. Consider this remarkable memoir a new classic.
Engaging readers through all five senses and the heart, Wang's debut memoir is a critical addition to the literature on immigration as well as the timeless category of childhood memoir. As saturated in cultural specificity as classics like Angela's Ashes and Persepolis, the narrative conveys the unique flavor and underlying beliefs of the author's Chinese heritage—and how they played out as both gifts and obstacles in the chaotic, dirty maelstrom of poverty ... A potent testament to the love, curiosity, grit, and hope of a courageous and resourceful immigrant child.