Beautiful Country: A Memoir (Hardcover)

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A critical addition to the literary memoir canon. Beautiful Country follows Qian Julie Wang, aged 7, from Shijiazhuang, China to New York City in 1994. There her mother works in sweatshops in Chinatown, her father works under the table at a law office, and Wang attends public school, feeling separated from her classmates, unable to speak English, and unable to disclose the reality of her home life. Like a certain plucky Roald Dahl character, she finds solace at her local public library as she learns to read, getting lost in the worlds of characters who lead lives differently than her own. Joy and hope tie up with overwhelming stresses. Wang’s clear, emotionally charged storytelling takes us through her childhood with such care and tenderness towards her family. Qian Julie’s story is not new to the United States, but it’s one that is rarely heard above the other myriad voices. You won’t want to miss this one.

— From Cassie

September 2021 Indie Next List

“In this brutally honest coming-of-age memoir, Qian Julie Wang comes to terms with the deprivations and struggles of her undocumented Chinese upbringing in New York City in the 1990s.”
— Kayleen Rohrer, InkLink Books, East Troy, WI



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.

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.

About the Author

QIAN JULIE WANG is a graduate of Yale Law School and Swarthmore College. Formerly a commercial litigator, she is now managing partner of Gottlieb & Wang LLP, a firm dedicated to advocating for education and civil rights. Her writing has appeared in major publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two rescue dogs, Salty and Peppers.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780385547215
ISBN-10: 0385547218
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication Date: September 7th, 2021
Pages: 320
Language: English