The Family Chao

RB Media. Feb. 2022. 11 hrs. ISBN 9781705057339. $24.99. F
The brothers Chao are reunited at the family’s Chinese restaurant in Haven, WI, for a Christmas party that evolves into a showdown, a murder, and a trial. Eldest brother, Dagou, demands that patriarch Leo make good on his promise to give him part ownership of the business; Leo refuses. When Leo, a charismatic but cruel man, dies under suspicious circumstances, Dagou is charged with his murder. In addition to three brothers, Leo, and long-suffering matriarch Winnie, there’s a complex web of secondary and tertiary characters. Tokyo-born narrator Brian Nishii gives characters accents appropriate to their history: a waitress who knows little English speaks with a thick Mandarin accent, while Winnie, who has lived in Wisconsin for decades, has a subtler one. While his accents are confident, Nishii’s characterizations are less consistent, but he shines as the youngest brother, James, a college freshman just beginning to understand himself independent of his family. In James’s chapters, Nishii’s narration is gentle and occasionally hesitant. Less successful is Nishii’s portrayal of Leo, a man who’s often described as charming but comes off only as boorish.
VERDICT Chang’s (All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost) latest is recommended where the print title is in demand.
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