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First Look Club: Jowana reviews Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

First Look Club: Jowana reviews Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang


By Qian Julie Wang

Publication date: October 5, 2021

Reviewed by Jowana Bueser

Americans pride themselves on the so-called ‘American Dream,’ the set of ideals in which opportunities and success are achievable through hard work in a society with minimal barriers. The idea is that if you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you will reach your goals no matter how improbable they may seem — unless you have no boots, to begin with, or are not allowed to own a pair. And in these United States, the bootless are the undocumented immigrants. 

Beautiful Country, the startlingly poignant memoir of Qian Julie Wang (pronounced: Chi-an Joo-lee Wong), recounts her childhood as an undocumented immigrant in Brooklyn. The daughter of professors, her life changed the moment her father decided to leave China for New York. Inflamed by the humiliation his family experienced after his brother was imprisoned for criticizing Mao Zedong, her father vowed to make a better life in the United States or Mei Guo – literally translated as “beautiful country.” At the age of seven, she arrived in the fabled land of opportunity and, for five years, lived in constant hunger and fear of deportation. 

Unsurprisingly, the election of Donald Trump moved her into writing her memoir. The former president exploited immigration en route to his shocking rise to power. Immigration is his loudest racist dog whistle and the reddest meat fed to his core supporters. The situation of illegal immigrant children has always been bleak. The Obama administration pushed for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allow certain individuals a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation. However, it doesn’t provide a path to citizenship. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, a bill that provides permanent residency, has languished in the U.S. Congress since 2001. 

Children of undocumented immigrants live in perpetual desolation. The concept of illegal immigrants places their very existence into question — that in this beautiful country, they have no right to exist. Beautiful Country is an emotional reminder that these children are not alone. The memoir is a compelling voice of the forgotten as told through the perspective of a child. The author drew the dark curtains shrouding her childhood and guided her readers through claustrophobic sweatshops, isolated school lunches, and predatory train rides. Her memories of humiliating sleepovers, harrowing medical emergencies, and heart-breaking fights are excruciatingly vivid that we celebrate her small victories like finding a bag of discarded Tamagotchis or discovering the comfort of books. Throughout her journey, we see her parents evolve from outspoken professionals to docile menial laborers. Her mother spiraling into desperation is one of the more affecting characters in her memoir. 

The book ends with little detail about how she turned her life around and graduate from a prestigious law school. A quick online search, though, provides us with snippets of her present life. The young girl who withstood hunger, fear, and racism became a civil rights lawyer, got married, and returned to Brooklyn.

Beautiful Country is a work of profound courage, for each page is a recollection of childhood trauma and a reflection on a past built on pain and secrets. Yet, it is also a wellspring of hope and enduring proof that no one believes more in the promise of America than the immigrants.

Jowana applied as a research assistant for Hogwarts but was rejected because her natural sarcasm is considered a form of dark arts. She has since harnessed her powers working as a social media manager for almost a decade. Books keep her calm from the madness and the sameness of life. 
You can find her on Twitter @jowanabueser.

[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]

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