cover image The Family Chao

The Family Chao

Lan Samantha Chang. Norton, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-86807-4

Chang follows up All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost with an ingenious and cunning reboot of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. The harrowing and humorous family drama is wrapped in a murder mystery about a family of Chinese immigrants headed by patriarch Leo Chao, who builds a successful Chinese restaurant in Haven, Wis., with his wife, Winnie. Like Leo’s Dostoyevskian equivalent, Fyodor Karamazov, he has three sons: the youngest, James, who’s lost his Mandarin; the middle, Ming, who now lives in Manhattan; and the eldest, Dagou, the restaurant’s head chef. All is not well in the family. The sons reunite in Haven for the annual Christmas party to find that Winnie has tired of her tyrannical husband and has left him to seek spiritual enlightenment. The locals, meanwhile, have turned on Leo, as well: some in response to his cutthroat business dealings, others out of racism. After the party, Leo turns up dead, the authorities suspect foul play, and Dagou is charged with murder. 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. (Feb.)