typical american


Gish Jen reinvents the American immigrant story through the Chang family, who come to the United States with no intention of staying. When the Communists assume control of China in 1949, though, Ralph Chang, his sister Theresa, and his wife Helen, find themselves in a crisis.

At first, they cling to their old-world ideas of themselves. But as they begin to dream the American dream of self-invention, they move poignantly and ironically from people who disparage all that is “typical American” to people who might be seen as typically American themselves.

With droll humor and a deep empathy for her characters, Gish Jen creates here a superbly engrossing story that resonates with wit and wisdom even as it challenges the reader to reconsider what a typical American might be today.

This is the story of a family coming together and coming apart, of personal history colliding with world history. It is the story of a smooth-talking con man who promises to make their most heartfelt dreams come true. It is the story of many miracles, real and imagined. But most of all, it is the story of three human beings who come to understand what really matters.

Finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award

No paraphrase could capture the intelligence of Gish Jen’s prose, its epigrammatic sweep and swiftness . . . The author just keeps coming at you line after stunning line.” —A. G. Mojtabai, New York Times Book Review

“The brilliance of Gish Jen’s novel is that it operates so deeply, yet so entertainingly, and at so many levels at once . . . She has created that rarest achievement in literature, the profoundly comic novel.” —Bruce Dexter, The San Diego Union

“Gish Jen has done more than tell an immigrant story…She has done it more and in some ways better than it has ever been done before.” —Richard Eder, Los Angeles Book Review

“Gish Jen has secured her place in American literature with this touching tale.” —Jackie Jones, San Francisco Chronicle

“Gish Jen’s immensely intelligent, thunderously funny, truly heartbreaking novel is perhaps the best story of contemporary immigrant experience ever to grace our literature.” —Jayne Anne Phillips

PBS American Masters series on the American Novel

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