A NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • The moving story of an undocumented child living in poverty in the richest country in the world—an incandescent debut from an astonishing new talent • A TODAY SHOW #READWITHJENNA PICK
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Qian Julie Wang’s heartbreakingly beautiful debut memoir will change the way you look at what you have…and what others don’t. Wang begins her story before she was even born, exploring her family’s experiences of torture, imprisonment, and death during China’s Cultural Revolution. When, in the early ’90s, her professor parents fear that they could become targets of the state, we fully grasp the trauma that led them to make 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’s story isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly moving and deeply important. Even at its darkest moments, we never wanted to look away.
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.
I want more.
I want you to fill in the gaps. I want to keep reading and inhaling your struggles and successes. I want to keep rooting for you. You are an inspiration.
I hard look at the hard life of illegal refugees whom we embrace while disparaging.
Suffering as the poorest of the poor. Smiling with hope for a better future. Achievement emerges in a happier world, but the memories never fade
Thank you for your bravery in sharing your story and life with inspirational Mother.