STARRED REVIEW
November 10, 2014

Immigrant daughter goes back to her roots

By Val Wang
Review by

Val Wang, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., wondering about her place in the world. "I didn't feel as though I belonged there," she wrote, "or anywhere yet, and I itched to travel to exotic places far away to look for what was missing in my life."

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Val Wang, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., wondering about her place in the world. "I didn't feel as though I belonged there," she wrote, "or anywhere yet, and I itched to travel to exotic places far away to look for what was missing in my life."

Much to her parents' dismay, Wang chose to go to the land they had fled in 1949. In 1998 she moved to Beijing and found work as a writer for a cultural magazine, hoping to film documentaries. Wang describes her decision as "an act of rebellion" against her parents and their suburban life.

Not surprisingly, Wang quickly discovers that "Starting over was not liberating or glamorous." For a while she lives with relatives in a house with an outhouse; later she moved into her own apartment in an area filled with sex shops and prostitutes.

Wang experiences a city in the midst of a great transition, as the government builds new apartment buildings while demolishing neighborhoods of "hutongs," narrow streets lined by traditional courtyard houses like the one she shares with relatives. Several of her family's courtyard homes had been taken over by the government years before and had gradually fallen into disrepair after being inhabited by squatters as well as family members.

Over the years, Wang gets to know and appreciate her family better, both those in America and in China. She struggles to find her own way as well, spending months documenting a family trained in the dying art of the Peking Opera, but eventually abandoning the project.

Beijing Bastard: Into the Wilds of a Changing China is an intriguing memoir of transformation and discovery on a cultural as well as personal level. Eventually, Wang returns to America. However, her journey of rebellion has transformed her, helping her find the part of herself that she felt was missing. As she explains, "Living in these courtyard houses had made me feel a part of my family as nothing else had."

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Beijing Bastard

Beijing Bastard

By Val Wang
Gotham
ISBN 9781592408207

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