The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang

The Family Chao is a rich exploration of a family in chaos. It is HBO’s Succession meets Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

When a duffel bag filled with life savings goes missing and the tyrannical patriarch, Big Chao, is found frozen to death in the family’s meat freezer, all eyes fall on his three sons as the prime suspects.

While this story has murder mystery elements, it is primarily an exploration of race, family betrayal, generational conflict, and life in the American Midwest.

The heavy subject matter is lightened by frequent comedy setpieces, astute characterisations, and a hefty dose of sexual tension.

I loved Lan Samantha Chang’s use of language and how she was able to paint such vivid scenes of family disruption alongside beautiful explorations of cultural identity.

Be warned, this is a long book that doesn’t conform to the genre expectations of a murder mystery. Think of it more as a ‘Great American Novel’ that just happens to feature a death or two and perhaps the consumption of a beloved family pet…

At times I thought this novel might be trying to do too much - it swings from an exploration of internalised racism to a courtroom drama, from a takedown of the American Dream to a pastiche of animal activism, from navigating a love triangle to uncovering a jewellery heist - but the author balances it all so delicately that any whiplash is avoided.

The Family Chao is an ambitious and satisfying novel worth reading, and although it can be exhausting at times it serves as an important reminder to always keep your meat freezer up to code.

Title: The Family Chao

Author: Lan Samantha Chang

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Publication date: 17 May 2022

RRP: $32.99 AUD