Beautiful Country : A Memoir
by Wang, Qian Julie

This memoir from a Chinese woman who arrived in New York City at age 7 examines how her family lived in poverty out of fear of being discovered as undocumented immigrants and how she was able to find success.

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. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

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 2021 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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