The Family Chao has a laser focus: one restaurant, one town, and one crime that will transform the family’s fortunes ... you get the sense that borrowing the bones of a classic [The Brothers Karamazov has freed up the author to focus on making every interior detail as perfect as it can be. One of the many pleasures of The Family Chao is the way the novel dramatises the gap between how a family wants to be seen, and its messier inner realities ... Chang has created a wonderful comedy of American consumption ... 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 ... Chang’s omniscient narrator tell us, 'there are many ways to greatness. There’s greatness of style, of setting, of occasion, and of company.' The Family Chao has a little of all these ingredients—but even better, it arrives with something to say.
Chang’s debt to the original Dostoevsky story is largely limited to the characterization of the brothers and their overbearing father. She uses the Wisconsin backdrop—the state where she was born and raised—to discuss race and identity in America, all while balancing her story with humorous and absurd scenes, including the play on words with the family name, as in Fine Chao, the name of their restaurant ... Despite the morbid plot that drives the story, The Family Chao is an entertaining novel that pays homage to a Russian classic. It’s certainly not necessary to be familiar with Dostoevsky’s novel to enjoy this one. Chang shows that it’s really all right to major in English.
... a mash-up of literary mystery, social commentary and romantic comedy ... This results in a busy, bristling narrative that has plenty to say about immigrants in America, the generational legacies of families who have fought to survive, and, most unusually, the Asian model minority myth, whereby the diverse experiences of a particular community are subsumed by the cliches and bias of wider society. Chang subverts this myth by focusing on the flaws of her characters ... the plot itself is not predictable, twisting and turning in such frenzied style that the reader is blindsided by the main event ... Chang ramps up the frenzy by using an omniscient narrator, flitting between the perspectives of family members, and occasionally to side characters ... The novel sometimes strains under the weight of it all. The narrative doesn’t quite earn its length, circling back on the main plot points from various viewpoints, and recapping these same events at the trial. The court scenes are true to life, authentic, but at the expense of drama. Transitions can be clumsy ... Chang gets away with most of this because the whodunnit plot drives things forward. She is a perceptive, witty writer who revels in the mess of this dysfunctional family ... The Family Chao is a bracing exploration of an immigrant family at odds with
each other and the world around them.
... brawny ... smart and entertaining ... The allure, and challenge, of The Family Chao is in balancing its debt to Dostoevsky with saying something fresh about family and immigrant life ... while the novel includes some nominal religious material, there’s no equivalent to the catalytic struggles with faith itself, and with guilt and temptation before God and the Devil, that course through Karamazov. In their place is a great deal of self- and sibling psychologising, which might become tedious were it not for Chang’s superb feinting and clue-dropping about who finally turns out to be the Chao-killing Chao.
Various subplots involving a stranger’s life savings and a missing family dog combine as the novel hurtles towards the suspicious death at its core, skewering—with tart humour—cultural myths about assimilation and model migrant families along the way ... Chang, in her admirable refusal to tie things up neatly, allows her characters and story to feel far too untidy and wayward—something a decent edit might have sorted out.
Chang... leans heavily into the murder plot and its psychological impact on her characters. Her prose is clean but not crisp—the editorial equivalent of auto-tuning. The resulting text feels produced (keeping to the music industry metaphor) without being over-manipulated. There are no distracting idiosyncrasies ... This was always a complicated plot, cluttered by digressions. So much happens in a short period, including murder ... No one in or reading either book feels particularly bad about this turn of events ... If you haven’t read Dostoevsky’s [The Brothers Karamazov, you won’t experience the fissures of pleasure when you encounter one of the surprising choices Chang makes. How meticulously she follows the plot outline. And the skill with which she strips away the frenzied outbursts and strange hysteria that typify the Russian characters’ interactions ... But for those coming to this story with fresh eyes, the fun will be experiencing it as it unfolds.
If you’ve ever read Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, you might recognize some of the outlines of this plot. But even those who haven’t brushed up on their Russian literature in a while will find plenty to appreciate in Chang’s remix of this classic novel ... The setting and characters offer plenty of space in which Chang can explore the multiple pressures brought to bear on the children of Asian immigrants growing up in a small Midwestern town ... It is also suffused with humor, much of it ironic, and delicious descriptions of Chinese food. Mouthwatering in more ways than one, The Family Chao is a literary mystery that readers can sink their teeth into.
Glimmers of Chang’s irrefutable pedigrees occasionally sparkle through multigenerational 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.
Ingenious and cunning ... The harrowing and humorous family drama is wrapped in a murder mystery about a family of Chinese immigrants ... As in Dostoyevsky’s novel, there is a trial, and important Chao family secrets will come to light, but Chang retells the story in a manner all her own, adding incisive wit while retaining the pathos. In this timely, trenchant, and thoroughly entertaining book, an immigrant family’s dreams are paid for in blood. For Chang, this marks a triumphant return.
Well-turned ... 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 ... A disruptive, sardonic take on the assimilation story.