The Family Chao ~ by Lan Samantha Chang

Oh what a good thing to read a good book –  good in many senses of the term. But first, although the is a mystery of sorts, it’s not a “thriller” in any sense of the term. 

But yes, it’s “good” in that it’s compelling and enjoyable to read.  It’s also “good” in that it’s heart-warming without being at all mushy.  And it’s well enough written to easily use various structural and narrative elements, literary devices and interesting metaphors. In its own way it’s also a celebration of food.  

The Family Chao
by Lan Samantha Chang 

2022 / 346 pages
Read by Brian Nishi 10h 57m
Rating 9 – A / literary mystery 

All that said, there’s a rather difficult underside to it. It’s about 1st generation immigrants – the first children born here to immigrant parents.  And there’s more than an echo of The Brothers Karamazov with the three brothers, a rich and worldly father, a death, and the clash of ideas and morality, values. 

The brothers in The Family Chao are Dagou who has been the brilliant chef at the family restaurant since his return from an attempt at college.  The second son is Ming who finished college and determinedly stayed away making his fortune in New York.  And there’s John who has just finished his 1st semester in pre-med and has the reputation for being the “good son.”  Father is a brute and mother has given in for years but has recently broken relations and moved in with a Buddhist community. 

The boys come home for Christmas and Dagou prepares his annual Christmas feast.  The next day Father is found dead in the walk-in basement freezer – he was locked in. Murdered. And that’s where Part 2 starts – a who-done-it and a trial.   

Chang explores a whole number of things in this book, immigrants, family, identity, belonging, loyalty, love of all kinds, some mysticism, forgiveness and so on.  Mostly though it’s a character-driven novel with wonderful insight into the nature and foibles of humans. I really didn’t want it to end.

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