Beautiful Country
Series: Reads and Reviews, Reads and Reviews - January 2022
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 9780385547215
Beautiful Country is a memoir by Qian Julie Wang. Wang revisits the painful years of her early childhood growing up as an undocumented immigrant in New York City. Her parents left China (first her father, then Wang with her mother), and came to the United States with absolutely nothing. In those early years, her family faces extreme poverty and racism - all while living with the constant fear that they might be deported. Wang's story recounts the difficulties of those years with excruciating detail. While New York City seems enormous to most of us, Wang's world was actually very small. She knew little beyond the walls of her family's cramped apartment and that world was colored vividly by her parent's fear and real insecurity. 
Qang struggles with malnutrition, her parent's sadness and frustration over the circumstances, and every day is eked out from the smallest strands of support. Wang is just a few years younger than me, and I found myself comparing the circumstances I grew up in to her stark experience just four hours away. Amazingly, Wang never seems hopeless. She learns to read and speak English on her own, and she scavenges together means for her own survival. In all, the book strikes a hopeful tone.
While the full text is too long to assign, I could definitely see using sections of this book as part of a class. Even an excerpt would explain how terrifying the world can be for immigration children. and how one's undocumented status can take over everyday life. 
About the Book

From the publisher, “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.”

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