Reviews for Beautiful Country

by Qian Julie Wang

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

This first book from Wang takes readers deep into her childhood experience of undocumented life in the U.S. At age seven, she and her mother join her father in New York City in 1994, seeing him for the first time since he left northern China two years prior. Instantly she understands Ba Ba’s directive to tell anyone who asks that she was born in Mei Guo, the Mandarin name for the U.S., meaning beautiful country. In contrast to the warm, family-surrounded life she led in China, Wang’s new existence in Brooklyn is startling in every way, governed by unrelenting hunger; the upsetting work her parents, who’d both been professors back in China, are forced to do; the alienation she feels at school when she at first only speaks Mandarin and relies on free meals for survival; and the constant threat of deportation. Now a lawyer, Wang buried herself in books for escape. Powerfully reconstructing, without embellishment, her memories of this shadow existence, Wang reveals truths about living in constant fear and trauma that will undoubtedly move readers.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

This first book from Wang takes readers deep into her childhood experience of undocumented life in the U.S. At age seven, she and her mother join her father in New York City in 1994, seeing him for the first time since he left northern China two years prior. Instantly she understands Ba Ba’s directive to tell anyone who asks that she was born in Mei Guo, the Mandarin name for the U.S., meaning beautiful country. In contrast to the warm, family-surrounded life she led in China, Wang’s new existence in Brooklyn is startling in every way, governed by unrelenting hunger; the upsetting work her parents, who’d both been professors back in China, are forced to do; the alienation she feels at school when she at first only speaks Mandarin and relies on free meals for survival; and the constant threat of deportation. Now a lawyer, Wang buried herself in books for escape. Powerfully reconstructing, without embellishment, her memories of this shadow existence, Wang reveals truths about living in constant fear and trauma that will undoubtedly move readers.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

How one little girl found her way through the terror, hunger, exhaustion, and cruelty of an undocumented childhood in New York's Chinatown.Since the absolute necessity of going through the world unnoticed was drummed into her from the moment she arrived in the U.S. in 1994, perhaps it is no surprise that Wang, a graduate of Yale Law School on her way up as a litigator, had deeply buried the memories of the 7-year-old girl who came with her Ma Ma to Mei GuoAmerica, or beautiful country. There they joined her father, whose life had been brutalized by the Cultural Revolution (he would happily eat America's shit before feasting on China's fruits"). The family lived off trash-picking and working in sweatshops and frigid sushi processing plants, even though both parents had been professors in China. As a child, Wang snipped threads and shivered in a huge plastic bodysuit right alongside them. She taught herself English in a public school that sent her to a special needs classroom and forgot about her. She lied and blustered her way through the humiliating social network of elementary school, often with poor results. Her only friend at times was a kitten she fed off her own tiny plate until her father blamed it for their bad luck and drove it away. When she left this life behind, she spoke not a word of it until the xenophobia that crescendoed during the 2016 election cycle made her break her silence. 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 heritageand 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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In this powerful debut, Wang reflects on her childhood experiences as an undocumented immigrant. Her family traveled to the United States to escape communist rule in China when she was seven years old. The family settled in Manhattan's Chinatown, where they experienced disillusionment and poverty as they worked exploitative jobs while fearing the ever-present threat of deportation. Wang tells her family's story from her then-perspective as a child who was attempting to understand her new life. She makes frequent comparisons to her life in China and the United States as she learns to navigate a new culture and language and finds solace in her small but powerful collection of books. Wang's relationship with her parents becomes complicated when their mental health becomes more fragile, and her mother's health declines. Finally, Wang's mother feels compelled to make a change that will alter the family forever. 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. VERDICT A haunting memoir of people and places that will stay with readers long after the last page.—Rebekah Kati, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

How one little girl found her way through the terror, hunger, exhaustion, and cruelty of an undocumented childhood in New York's Chinatown. Since the absolute necessity of going through the world unnoticed was drummed into her from the moment she arrived in the U.S. in 1994, perhaps it is no surprise that Wang, a graduate of Yale Law School on her way up as a litigator, had deeply buried the memories of the 7-year-old girl who came with her Ma Ma to Mei Guo—America, or “beautiful country.” There they joined her father, whose life had been brutalized by the Cultural Revolution (“he would happily eat America's shit before feasting on China's fruits"). The family lived off trash-picking and working in sweatshops and frigid sushi processing plants, even though both parents had been professors in China. As a child, Wang snipped threads and shivered in a huge plastic bodysuit right alongside them. She taught herself English in a public school that sent her to a special needs classroom and forgot about her. She lied and blustered her way through the humiliating social network of elementary school, often with poor results. Her only friend at times was a kitten she fed off her own tiny plate until her father blamed it for their bad luck and drove it away. When she left this life behind, she spoke not a word of it until the xenophobia that crescendoed during the 2016 election cycle made her break her silence. 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. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

In this extraordinary debut, civil rights lawyer Wang recounts her years growing up as an undocumented immigrant living in “the furtive shadows” of America. During China’s Cultural Revolution, her uncle was thrown in prison for criticizing Mao Zedong, leaving his parents and younger brother, Wang’s father, to pay for his “treasonous” ways in the form of public beatings and humiliation. This fueled her father’s desire to find a better life in America, the “Beautiful Country.” In China, Wang’s parents were professors, but upon arriving in New York City in 1994, their credentials were meaningless. “Pushing past hunger pains,” they took menial jobs to support Wang, who worked alongside her mother in a sweatshop before starting school at age seven. During her five years in the States—“shrouded in darkness while wrestling with hope and dignity”—Wang managed to become a star student. With immense skill, she 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. Agent: Andrianna Yeatts, ICM Partners. (Sept.)