Immigration is one of the most controversial topics as of today.
The stories of immigrants are often lost amidst the political noise, leaving us blind to their struggles and triumphs.
But what happens when an immigrant child is tasked with making sense of this new and unfamiliar world?
Qian Julie Wang has the answer to that.
In her debut memoir, Qian brings to life the harsh realities of an undocumented family living in America through the eyes of a young and naive girl. Wang’s personal story of overcoming poverty, racism, and the fear of being discovered as an illegal immigrant is a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy, understanding, and acceptance in our society.
In this discussion guide, we’ll have a look at some book club questions for Beautiful Country and why it’s a must-read for anyone looking to explore the story of a family that defied all odds to pursue what we call the great American dream.
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Book Club Questions for Beautiful Country
- Qian’s experience as an immigrant had a significant impact on her sense of identity and self-worth. In China, she was outgoing, attractive, and had a leadership attitude. However, in the United States, she faced racism and stereotypes that made her feel less valued. For instance, she was placed in a class for students with special needs, despite being capable of learning at the same pace as her peers.
Do you have your fair share of experiences where you were denied the opportunity just because of your race or gender? If yes, let us know. Also, discuss how preconceived notions often lead to misaligned judgments, just like in the case of Qian.
- Qian’s parents’ experiences as immigrants, including working in difficult conditions with little pay and no benefits, impacted their relationship with each other and with their daughter. Qian’s mother fell ill but was afraid of deportation, which likely added stress to their already strained relationship. At the same time, Qian’s dad had his own fair share of struggle and trauma, further providing salt to the injury.
Discuss how as children, we can prevent such things from happening and resolve such internal feuds between our parents, especially during such times of crisis.
- Education played a significant role in Qian’s life, helping her achieve her goals despite facing stereotypes and assumptions about her race. She taught herself how to read and speak English, and eventually convinced her teachers to let her back into the regular classroom. Her eventual graduation from Yale Law School was literally a slap on the face of all those who doubted her.
Discuss the role of education in shaping someone as a person, and the challenges that come along with it, especially when you are underprivileged such as in the case of Qian.
- Qian frequently feels squelched and silenced by those around her. This includes her mother, who often admonishes Qian to be quiet, and her father, who encourages her to lie about her upbringing in China.
Don’t you think in the midst of all this, Qian was actually asked to lose her true identity, eventually making her lose that voice she once had? What would you have done in such a situation?
- When Quin’s father betrayed her trust, it led her to have a significant impact on Qian’s ability to trust him and others. This loss of trust affects her relationships with her classmates, professionals, and friends, as she sees everyone as a potential threat. Her distrust often precludes potentially positive relationships and exacerbates her feelings of isolation and loneliness.
This shows how one person’s deeds affect the ones that are close to him. Discuss how one can get out of such situations.
- From a young age, Qian feels like she must take on the role of her mother’s protector, a responsibility that is far beyond what a child should have to bear. This leads her to feel like she is constantly failing as she struggles to balance the responsibilities of adulthood with her desire to experience her childhood.
Do you think this role reversal prevented Qian from forming healthy relationships with others, as she is always trying to protect those around her rather than allowing herself to be vulnerable and connect with others on a deeper level?
- Fear was a powerful force in the Wang family’s experiences, infecting almost every aspect of their lives. In China, Qian’s father had to flee for his political views, causing Qian and her mother to fear they would never see him again. In the US, their fear of deportation was so great that they hesitated to speak up when mistreated, even in situations where it could have endangered their lives.
Explain how Qian portrayed fear in the novel as the primary force behind people not living the life they want.
- The Wangs’ financial struggles made them vulnerable to James Lombardi’s advances. The cheap fast food at McDonald’s was an unaffordable treat for the Wangs, and James would pay for their meals, flashing twenties from his wallet. Although they were aware of his creepy behavior and his gross thoughts about Qian, the Wangs never rejected James outright because they depended on his generosity.
After reading the novel, how much did you start hating James? Also, have you ever encountered a creep like James in your personal life?
- When Qian’s mom was in the hospital, Lin Ah Yi took Qian in on the weekends, giving her a room to herself, serving her delicious food, and making her feel that she has someone to talk to. Ah Yi, on the other hand introduced Qian’s mom to the option of moving to Canada to take advantage of the programs they had for skilled immigrants.
Don’t you think these two people imbibed in Qian the trust that she had lost from people when she was mistreated in the States?
- Qian’s experiences, including trauma, hardship, and overcoming obstacles, likely influenced her decision to write a memoir. She struggled with holding onto her secrets and found her voice back once again with the help of thoughts and opinions. The judge who listened to her story helped her see that holding onto those secrets gave them too much power, and writing about her experiences allowed her to reclaim her narrative and share her story with others.
This is a funny question, but don’t you think we all should write our respective memoirs based on our experiences in life? If you are planning to do so, what are three things that you are taking along with you after reading this memoir? Also, don’t you think Beautiful Country was actually a sarcastic title based on what Qian has experienced in America?
If you liked this set of questions, here are some other options for you to explore.
Surviving Savannah: In the depths of history, the secrets of a doomed steamship emerge. Join Professor Everly Winthrop as she delves into the mysteries of the Pulaski disaster, unearthing the incredible stories of two remarkable women and their harrowing choices in the face of tragedy. Survival now takes on a whole new meaning.
Reminders of Him: In a poignant tale of redemption, Kenna Rowan fights against all odds to rebuild her shattered life after a tragic mistake lands her in prison. With the help of Ledger Ward, a bar owner, they navigate a forbidden romance and strive for a future of healing and hope.
French Braid: Join the quirky, lovable Garretts on a rollercoaster ride through the decades, from a 1950s road trip to a pandemic-era reunion. Anne Tyler weaves heartbreak, humor, and profound insight into a warm and funny tale about the complexities of family bonds.
Beautiful Country: Young Qian Julie Wang faces the harsh reality of being an undocumented immigrant in 1990s New York. Through determination, the refuge of books, and small joys, she navigates a world of fear and scarcity, seeking light in the shadows.
Project Hail Mary: In a gripping space thriller, Ryland Grace awakens with amnesia and discovers he’s humanity’s last hope. With only corpses for company, he must unravel a baffling scientific enigma and save Earth, all while racing against time and the vastness of space.