Plano Reads: The Family Chao
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Plano Reads: The Family Chao

For February’s meeting of the Mystery Book Club, we are reading The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang. Please join us for our discussion on Thursday, February 15 at 7 p.m. at Davis Library or you can attend through Zoom. If you would like to attend the meeting virtually, please register here.

Available in Print | eBook | eAudio

The residents of Haven, Wisconsin have dined on the Fine Chao restaurant’s delicious Americanized Chinese food for thirty-five years, happy to ignore any unsavory whispers about the family owners. But when brash, charismatic, and tyrannical patriarch Leo Chao is found dead–presumed murdered–his sons find they’ve drawn the exacting gaze of the entire town.

The ensuing trial brings to light potential motives for all three brothers: Dagou, the restaurant’s reckless head chef; Ming, financially successful but personally tortured; and the youngest, gentle but lost college student James.

Brimming with heartbreak, comedy, and suspense, The Family Chao offers a kaleidoscopic, highly entertaining portrait of a Chinese American family grappling with the dark undercurrents of a seemingly pleasant small town.

– Provided by Publisher


A Chinese American family reckons with its patriarch’s murder in this modern-day reboot of The Brothers Karamazov.

When James, the youngest of the three Chao brothers, returns home to Wisconsin from college for Christmas, he’s braced for drama. His imperious, abrasive father, Leo, has driven his mother to a Buddhist sanctuary. The middle brother, Ming, made his fortune in New York to escape the family’s orbit and is only grudgingly visiting. And the eldest brother, Dagou, has labored at the family restaurant for years in hopes of a stake in the business only to be publicly rebuffed by Leo. Leo is murderously frustrating, so it’s not exactly surprising when he’s found dead, trapped in the restaurant’s freezer room, its escape key suspiciously absent. Chang’s well-turned third novel neatly balances two substantial themes. One is the blast radius of family dysfunction; the novel is largely told from James’ (more innocent) perspective, but Chang deftly shows how each of the brothers, and the partners, exes, and onlookers around them, struggles to make sense of Leo and his death. (Handily, the plural of Chao is chaos.) The second is the way anti-immigrant attitudes warp the truth and place additional pressure on an overstressed family: When one of the brothers faces trial for Leo’s death, news reports and local gossip are full of crude stereotypes about the “Brothers Karamahjong” and rumors of the restaurant serving dog meat. 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.

-Copyright Kirkus Reviews

Lan Samantha Chang is the author of The Family Chao, winner of an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction. A twenty-fifth anniversary edition of her first collection, Hunger, will be reissued in September, 2023, by W.W. Norton & Company. She is also the author of the novels All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost and  Inheritance, which won the PEN Open Book Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic, and The Best American Short Stories. She’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Academy in Berlin. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa, where she teaches at and directs the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. 

-From the author’s website

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