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The Wangs Vs The World Summary & Study Guide Description
The Wangs Vs The World Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Chang. Jade. The Wangs vs. America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.
The Wangs Against the World begins with Charles Wang bankrupt and preparing to leave his Bel-Air home and take a cross-country road trip to live with his oldest daughter, Saina, the only one of his three children with any money left. Charles grew up in Taiwan after his family lost their vast holdings in China during the Communist Revolution, and he was obsessed with reclaiming the family land. As the book opens, the only person he told of his plan to return to China, however, was his son, Andrew, a student at Arizona State.
The beginning of the book rotates through the different Wang family members' perspectives, all in the past tense, so the reader can see how Charles's bankruptcy effected them.
Saina, Charles's oldest daughter, lived in a farmhouse in Helios, New York, where she hid after her career as an artist went sour. Recently dumped by her superstar-artist boyfriend, Grayson, Saina tried to discover who she was. She was dating an African American man, Leo, when Grayson came back into her life. When Leo found the two of them in bed together, he left Saina.
The next morning, Charles and Barbara left their home early. Charles had still not explained to Barbara his plan is to continue on to reclaim the family fortune in China.
His son Andrew seemed unaffected by the coming changes in his life. He lounged in his dorm room with Emma, his girlfriend, who he refused to sleep with. He was committed to remaining a virgin until he falls in love, a sentiment that caused Emma to storm off. Andrew was too distracted by a phone call from Grace to go after her. Andrew told Grace about the $7 million trust funds each child once had, which led Grace to believe the situation was test her father devised to see if she was worthy of the money.
In Helios, New York, Saina Grayson received a call from Sabrina, the woman he had left Saina for, and he left Saina to return to Sabrina.
As Grace waited for her family to arrive at her school, the headmistress told her that the laptop with her entire style blog on it did not belong to her because it had not yet been paid for. When Charles arrived in the middle of her attempt to download her files, he managed to negotiate the purchase of the laptop for $75. The headmistress of the school did not quite agree before Charles threw the money at her and ran with Grace to the waiting car. The absurdity of her millionaire father stealing a laptop further convinced Grace that everything happening to her was a test rather than her new reality.
When Grace got into the old Mercedes station wagon, she tacked a picture of her mother, May Lee, inside of the door. May Lee was Charles's first wife, a beautiful third-generation Chinese-American model who died in a helicopter crash when Grace was only eight weeks old.
Before the family reached Andrew in Arizona, Charles stopped to rent a U-Haul and to break into one of his California warehouses. His goal was to take a large order of cosmetics to a couple in Alabama. By delivering the order personally, he would be able to take payment and keep the money.
Once the theft was complete, the family continued on to pick up Andrew, whose car was repossessed. Charles received a call, but from his lawyers who had been looking into the land in China for him. They told him that there was already a Charles Wang who claimed the land, and they promised to look into it.
On the way to Andrew, the family had to drop Ama, the woman who had served first as Charles's wet nurse and then as his children's nanny, with her daughter, Kathy. Kathy's home was a depressing metal structure in the middle of a dust-covered lawn, Grace is horrified to be served hot dogs for dinner. Grace began to understand that their trip was not a test when Kathy makes it clear that she understood that Charles was basically stealing Ama's car.
At this point, the narrative reveals the actual circumstances around Charles's financial ruin. Believing that the ethnic cosmetics industry was wide open and waiting for someone to invest in, he staked not only his business but his personal assets as well to get a loan to start his own line of cosmetics. The inevitable bumps of a new business venture happened at the same time that the economy as a whole took a hit, and the bank called the loan, causing Charles to lose everything. It was emotion--a desire to look strong in front of the white bankers--that caused him to make such a stupid mistake.
Meanwhile, Andrew decided to actually attend classes. His economics professor gave a lecture-turned-rant about the collapse of the housing market and banking systems. The professor blamed a Chinese mathematician--and China as a whole--for giving Wall Street the idea that risk could be controlled through math. Angry at his professor, Andrew told the entire lecture hall that his family was bankrupt, before storming out for good.
In New York, Saina was dealing with her loss of both Grayson and Leo. She found Leo at the farmers market where he sold his produce and lied to him, telling him that she was the one who wanted Grayson to leave. When she arrived back at her house after making up with Leo, Saina found Billy Al-Alani, a literary theory quoting hipster who became an art journalist. Billy wanted an exclusive interview with Saina, but she refused, even though she knew that the refusal would cause Billy to retaliate and destroy what was left of her reputation. At this point, tSaina's realized that without an audience to witness her art, she could not produce it.
In Arizona, Charles and the rest of the family interrupted Andrew's masturbation session. Humiliated, he cleaned up and grabbed his expensive sneakers and comedy albums before climbing into the Mercedes with the rest of the family. When they arrived at a seedy motel, Andrew and Grace sat by the pool and talked. He confessed that he is still a virgin, and she told him that she was not. Angered and shamed by her admission, he lashed out at her.
The next day, Charles took another call from his attorney and Barbara, overhearing the conversation, realized that he has set his sights on reclaiming the Chinese land. The two fought, and at that night's stop, Barbara volunteered to go with Andrew to an open mic night. His comedy routine was awful and fell flat, because it was derived from such over-used stereotypes about Asians that they were no longer provocative. Knowing that his performance was bad, Andrew was on an even shorter fuse.
Back in New York, Saina and Leo rekindled their relationship. She remained confused about why something major had not happened when Grayson left her. She had always associated national disasters, like the Challenger explosion and Chernobyl, with her own failed love life.
On the way to make their delivery in Alabama, the Wangs stopped to visit Nash, their father's friend, a professor of Chinese Studies. Nash has moved back to his home town to take care of the family plantation, an old cotton plantation that will need to be sold off by the end of the year to pay taxes. Nash invited the Wangs to a family wedding, a low-country affair featuring mudbugs and bourbon, where Charles's worries about Andrew's masculinity come to the forefront. Already upset by Grace and his own comedy performance, Andrew stormed off and found Dorrie, an older cousin of Nash's. Dorrie took him to a surreal cabaret in the French Quarter, where Andrew passed out. He awakened in Dorrie's bed and chose finally to relinquish his long-defended virginity. The next day, he told his family that he was staying with Dorrie.
Meanwhile, Saina received a call from her lawyer, who alerted her that her funds might not have been as safe as they had expected. Her trust was still tied up with Charles's assets, and the banks have frozen all of her money.
When the rest of the family reached Alabama, Charles discovered their detour has been a waste of time. The cosmetics went bad from the heat. Charles wrote the couple a refund check that he knew would bounce and drove off without anything. Following this disappointment, Barbara considered leaving Charles and starting over, but she barely began planning when she realized that she had already given him her heart.
As Barbara decided to stay with Charles, the Mercedes gave up. Spinning off the road, it landed broken and unfixable, leaving the family stranded in North Carolina.
Back in New Orleans, Andrew realized his mistake and left Dorrie to wander through the French Quarter. He found another open mic night, and this time he spoke truly and the audience responded well. On the side of the road, Grace realized she loved life and did not want to die, and that there was beauty in the world beyond superficial style. In New York, Saina understood that her goal was to make people feel something through art. Even though her last show was a failure, it did just that.
The family finally arrived, battered and bruised, at Saina's home. They met Leo and everything seemed to be going well, even though Billy's article appeared at the same time as the family. However, that night Charles received a call about the imposter who has his land in China and he determined to go.
In China, Charles discovered that most of his imaginings had been incorrect. Beijing is a modern city that seemed to exceed even the U.S. Once in his ancestral homeland, the thing he craved most was his childhood foods and experiences in Taiwan. He eventually made his way to the family land and felt a deep sense of connection. He buried the bone fragment from his father and urinated to mark the land as his,but he noticed a large sign that said the land would soon become apartments for city living.
In New York, the siblings tried to figure out a new dynamic in Saina's house. Saina learned that Leo had a child that he did not tell her about. Hurt that he would hide such a large part of his life, she told him to leave just as she received an email that said her father was in the hospital in China.
The children rushed to Beijing. Barbara would come later, her passport having expired. They found their father in and learn that he had a ministroke, something that was not a new occurrence. He had been having the same small strokes that killed his own father but had been hiding them from the children. When he found the man impersonating him--the son of an old family friend--and fought him, he had another, more devastating attack. He sent the children to a dinner in his honor, happy to have them with him. At the dinner, Leo calls Saina and she forgave him, promising to come home to him. But before the dinner was over, the children received news that they needed to come to the hospital immediately.
When they arrived, Barbara was already there with their father. Charles had another stroke. The narrative shifts to Charles's perspective, who was lucid but unable to make his mouth form the words he wanted to say. Finally, he got the three most important words out: Daddy discovered America. The novel ends with him feeling satisfied that he has done this much for his children, but it is not determinant whether Charles himself will survive.
This section contains 1,979 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)