Beautiful Country, by Qian Julie Wang
18 December 2021
Mei Guo is what Qian Julie Wang’s parents called America, before the family left their native China to start new lives in what they believed to be the beautiful country. Once on the ground though, what they saw and experienced was anything but beautiful. Wang’s parents, who in China held down academic careers, found themselves working in below minimum wage jobs, earning barely enough money to keep a roof over their heads.
Beautiful Country (published by Penguin Books Australia, September 2021) is a no holds barred account of the childhood of New York litigator Qian Julie Wang, as an undocumented immigrant. Here Wang recounts contending with racism, poverty, and loneliness, among other things, while maintaining the façade the family’s papers were in order, she was of American birth, and they were residing legally in the beautiful country.
It may be a cliché to go and say the grass is not greener on the other side, at least not at first, but from this life on the run, Wang rose above every obstacle before her. She studied law while working four part time jobs, and now manages an organisation that advocates for education and civil rights. As a footnote, Wang composed her memoir on a smartphone during her commute to and from work, a detail the time-poor authors among us will find notable.