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Publisher's Summary

An incandescent memoir from an astonishing new talent, Beautiful Country puts listeners in the shoes of an undocumented child living in poverty in the richest country in the world.

"Extraordinary.... Consider this remarkable memoir a new classic." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

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.

©2021 Qian Julie Wang (P)2021 Random House Audio

Dear Listener,

What inspired me to tell my story now?
"I'd always dreamed about writing this book because, although I grew up learning English in library books, I never found a book that depicted characters who looked like me and lived in the way my parents and I did. Even so, I figured it was impossible, because I lived under messaging that I was to hide my past and remain ashamed of it. It wasn’t until the discourse of the 2016 election, which took place just six months after I became a naturalized US citizen, that I discovered I had a newfound power and thus a responsibility to share my story, that at that juncture of my life, I was making an actual decision to stay quiet—a privilege that millions of undocumented immigrants did not have. And while I cannot speak for the entire community—we are not a monolith; each immigrant story is varied and diverse—I did write this book to allow readers to walk around in my childhood shoes and experience things as I did, in hopes of showing that, documented or not, there are universal human threads that run through all of our wants, fears, and dreams." – Qian Julie Wang, writer of Beautiful Country

Critic Reviews

A Read with Jenna Book Club Pick • An Instant New York Times Best Seller • A New York Times Editor's Choice 

"Incredibly important, exquisitely written, harrowing...Beautiful Country tells [Wang’s] story, well, quite beautifully. It is not only Wang’s mastery of the language that makes the story so compelling, but also the passionate yearning for empathy and understanding. Beautiful Country is timely, yes, but more importantly it is a near-masterpiece that will make Qian Julie Wang a literary star." (Shondaland)

"For fans of Angela's Ashes and The Glass Castle." (Newsday)

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What listeners say about Beautiful Country

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

it was amazing!

China, Chinese-culture, Chinese-customs, Chinese-languages, Canada, Brooklyn, narrative, nonfiction, immigrants, library, mandarin, undocumented, family-dynamics, ambitions, culture-of-fear, sweat-shops, contemporary*****

She is the unsuspecting passenger in her parents' journey and it takes many years for her to make it her own. In China her parents were respected professors, but in Brooklyn and NYC Chinatown they are *ignorant* because they have so little English, do not speak Cantonese, and must work in the sweatshops for little money and in such awful conditions. But for a girl of seven it is all incomprehensible and lonely. Even after she teaches herself to read English and then is introduced to the wonder that is libraries. Not all of the problems are caused by others or even their own beliefs about luck, as a major hurdle occurs when mother becomes gravely ill. But mother is also an overcomer and is able to return to academia when Qian is just starting middle school and they resettle into the warm welcome that is Canada. Spoiler: Qian does go to Yale law.
The last Chinese immigrant I've read about is Patriot Number One three years ago.
I requested and received a free temporary e-book copy from Doubleday Books via NetGalley. Thank you!
I will be getting the audio. That was Jun 28, 2021. Now I have the audio! AND it's narrated by THE AUTHOR! FANTASTIC!

5 people found this helpful

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Enough already !

This attempt to be poetic about poverty fails under the weight of endlessly repeated complaint against the supposed privileges of others.

3 people found this helpful

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Beautifully written

What a beautiful & heart wrenching story of the authors life. Thank you for sharing your American story & shedding light on the hardship of immigrant experience in our time. I grew up parallel to this story as a natural born US citizen in the Midwest with so many privileges afforded to me just because I was born here. Her story moved me & inspired me.

2 people found this helpful

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Makes Me Sad

Sorry to think your experience here was so painful. My parents were immigrants from Germany in the early 1900s. There’s was a wonderful experience. The difference was they had someone here who cared about them and help them get started. That’s what every newcomer needs I’m happy to say my experience here as a first generation American has been profound and beautiful.

2 people found this helpful

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Very sad, mixed feelings

I'm a 51 year old Chinese American woman with a father who immigrated illegally from China at age 11, and a mother whose parents immigrated before her birth. I thought it'd be interesting to hear a story of a more recent immigration. I have to say I was very shocked to hear of the overt racism in 1994 in Brooklyn, of all places. It was sad to hear of the abject poverty, endless hunger, and continual struggles of a family whose parents were both professors in China.
Parts of the story also made me feel angry. Perhaps I am way too Americanized to truly understand. Why bring your family from China when you can't even feed them, subjecting them to malnutrition, stress, and constant anxiety and resentment? I can understand the constant fear of being caught as undocumented people, but I was mad about the fear instilled in Qian that didn't leave her until she was an adult. I was angry about how the mother inappropriately relied on Qian emotionally, asking for advice about jobs and telling her about feeling suicidal. So wrong, and again, this mother was educated! No wonder Qian felt so guilty her entire life! And although their family was financially stable in China, I thought it was silly how Qian described American children who could afford lunch as "rich."
The story also felt very abrupt as it was cut short at the end. I wish the author had devoted more time to the latter years of her adolescence and getting into law school. I'm not sure I would recommend this book.

1 person found this helpful

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If you want to feel judged, this is for you!

As someone who is passionate about helping immigrants, I was excited to read this book. I could not have been more disappointed. I expected it to be sad, but I was not prepared for how judgmental the author is about all Americans and rich people. She regularly makes awful comments about the physical appearance of almost everyone she meets. She also makes negative comments about people who have money, even if they helped her.

1 person found this helpful

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Narrator spoke in a constant hateful tone.

This was like a diary written by person who hated the world and everyone in it. Shame on Jenna Bush Hagar for recommendation. I am sorry I wasted a credit to hear a hateful spoke book that ruined my mood.

1 person found this helpful

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Disappointing

Not worthy of all the media hype. Disappointing that greater insight was not given, nor was the abupt ending helpful.

1 person found this helpful

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Touching memoir

Exceptional book read by the author
With subtle emphasis and a gentle voice,
she emphasizes the key junctures in the work. The work is a testimony to the life of people coming to America to forge a new life for themselves and their families: hard work and heavy lifting

1 person found this helpful

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Understanding the life of illegal immigrants

An in depth look at the life and consequences of living in America as an illegal immigrant. The pain, the prejudice, the emotional trauma for the entire family is open for inspection in this book. Beautifully written. Left me feeling still at a loss of what to do to fix this problem.

1 person found this helpful