An incandescent memoir from an astonishing new talent, Beautiful Country puts readers in the shoes of an undocumented child living in poverty in the richest country in the world.
"Extraordinary…Consider this remarkable memoir a new classic."—Publishers Weekly, *Starred Review*
In Chinese, the word for America, Mei Guo, translates directly to “beautiful country.” Yet when seven-year-old Qian arrives in New York City in 1994 full of curiosity, she is overwhelmed by crushing fear and scarcity. In China, Qian’s parents were professors; in America, her family is “illegal” and it will require all the determination and small joys they can muster to survive.
In Chinatown, Qian’s parents labor in sweatshops. Instead of laughing at her jokes, they fight constantly, taking out the stress of their new life on one another. Shunned by her classmates and teachers for her limited English, Qian takes refuge in the library and masters the language through books, coming to think of The Berenstain Bears as her first American friends. And where there is delight to be found, Qian relishes it: her first bite of gloriously greasy pizza, weekly “shopping days,” when Qian finds small treasures in the trash lining Brooklyn’s streets, and a magical Christmas visit to Rockefeller Center—confirmation that the New York City she saw in movies does exist after all.
But then Qian’s headstrong Ma Ma collapses, revealing an illness that she has kept secret for months for fear of the cost and scrutiny of a doctor’s visit. As Ba Ba retreats further inward, Qian has little to hold onto beyond his constant refrain: Whatever happens, say that you were born here, that you’ve always lived here.
Inhabiting her childhood perspective with exquisite lyric clarity and unforgettable charm and strength, Qian Julie Wang has penned an essential American story about a family fracturing under the weight of invisibility, and a girl coming of age in the shadows, who never stops seeking the light.
Cover photograph © Bud Glick
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Qian Julie Wang’s heartbreaking debut memoir will change the way you look at what you have—and what others don’t. Wang begins her story before she was born, exploring her family’s experiences of torture, imprisonment, and death during China’s Cultural Revolution. In the early ’90s, her professor parents, fearing they might become targets of the state, made a desperate move, emigrating to the U.S. without papers when Wang was just seven. The details that Wang recalls from her childhood in an undocumented family include a cramped, shared room with no privacy and memories of her scholar parents working backbreaking menial jobs. In one touching moment, she elatedly stumbles upon a line of people receiving free meals, only to take off sprinting, her fear of someone discovering the family’s status winning out over constant hunger. Wang maintains an almost impossible steadiness as she narrates her story. It makes for a harrowing listen, but it’s also told in an incredibly beautiful way. Moving and deeply important, Beautiful Country is the kind of audiobook you don’t want to turn off.
Tried to like it
I think if the author used a better narrator, instead of herself, it might’ve worked.