Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “What the Zhang Boys Know” as Want to Read:
What the Zhang Boys Know
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

What the Zhang Boys Know

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  115 ratings  ·  44 reviews
"What the Zhang Boys Know has a dozen chapters, each one a vivid short story in itself. Garstang makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. The lives of the inhabitants of a condominium in Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown are told separately and as part of a web of entanglements. The entrances and exits are handled with the deftness of a French comedy, but the empathy ...more
Paperback, 218 pages
Published October 1st 2012 by Press 53
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about What the Zhang Boys Know, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about What the Zhang Boys Know

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.14  · 
Rating details
 ·  115 ratings  ·  44 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of What the Zhang Boys Know
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
Having recently lost his wife in a horrible accident, Zhang Feng-qi tries to bring up his sons as best as he can, but he is not his wife - he cannot maintain his condo as well as his wife did, nor can he properly answer his two sons, Simon and Wesley, when they insist that their mother will come back. He wonders if his new girlfriend can step in, but knows it is too early to introduce her to the family. He asks his American mother-in-law to help, but she was never supportive of her daughter's ma ...more
Camilla Stein
Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As many stories, as many characters and as many perspectives – but not quite yet.

What The Zhang Boys Know opens with a family scene, quite typical for many families, and therefore so easy to relate to, to place oneself into the shoes of the father, the children, the observers who enter into the scene, abruptly, but somehow we know – there’s a purpose, author’s intent behind this.

Long sentences intermingle with short sentences, and again, very soon it becomes evident that there’s a meaning for th
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
I won this book in a Good Reads contest, and quite honestly, had not heard of the title, nor the author. I really liked the premise of the book: short stories with a common theme of taking place among the residents of an apartment building in Washington, D.C.

The first story, entitled "What The Zhang Boys Know" lays the foundation for the rest of the book. The story centers around Feng-Qi Zhang, a recently widowed young father of two little boys. The author examines the father's utter sense of l
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This collection of tightly linked stories has an ingenious conceit: all the narratives deal with the residents of a somewhat slapdash apartment building in an artsy, gentrifying neighborhood of Washington, D.C., seemingly sometime in the 1990s or early 2000s. The transitioning, borderline nature of the location is perfect for creating the sense of flux, possibility, and adventure that fiction thrives upon. The building boasts a couple of artists, an African-American lawyer, a multigenerational C ...more
Dec 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I didn't know what to expect when the book's editor and publisher suggested Zhang Boys to me. All I knew is that Garstang was editor of Prime Numbers and that I have NEVER been disappointed in any Press 53 issue.

This book is superbly written! I had mistakenly believed that writing a novel in short-story chapters and allowing various points of view to dictate, depending on the character(s), was too difficult to pull off -- well.

Garstang is such a master at this type of structure, there is no co
Sarah Honenberger
Mar 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: any adult
An engaging and challenging look at city living. Garstang presents his characters in such emotional detail that you feel you would recognize them from a conversation. Chinatown in Washington, DC, familiar to me from my post-college pre-law school days is rendered in living color in his connected stories. So pleased that the judges at the Library of Virginia Fiction award recognized his talent in this second book.
Ron Yates
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The characters in Clifford Garstang’s novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know, cover a broad spectrum, ranging from a widowed Chinese American, to an overweight condo developer, a coffee shop employee, various artists, and a variety of thwarted lovers, with several stops between. The individuals within this parade of humanity are connected through a multitude of events that largely stem from their shared address: the Nanking Mansion, “a 1920’s tenement on the racially tense edge of D.C.’s Chi ...more
Sep 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Set in modern day Washington DC, What the Zhang Boys Know is a collection of short stories, connected by common threads: the characters all live in the same building of condominiums in a run-down (but up and coming) section of Chinatown, they are lonely, and have suffered loss and disappointment. The Zhang boys are the young children of Fenq-qi Zhang, a widower whose life is turned upside down when his wife is killed in a motor-vehicle accident. While the boys do not know everything that is reve ...more
Daniel K
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
It's all about perspective. That has come to be one of my own personal philosophies to live by as I journey through life. That may very well be why this book seemed to ring so true and captivate me as I turned page after page. Clifford Garstang writes about the lives of many, allowing us to be exposed to many perspectives of the main characters. He dives deep into the personal worlds of those which he writes about.

I initially thought this would be the sort of story written about different lives
Eric Wyatt
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Good fiction transports us into other worlds. Sometimes, this takes the form of the sweeping Civil War epic or the Deep Space Trilogy--big, complex novels filled with a large cast of main characters and more extras than could be supplied by a Hollywood casting company.

While Clifford Garstang's new book, What the Zhang Boys Know, is less assuming in scope, it nevertheless settles us into an unknown world both captivating and complex in its own way. The setting for The Zhang Boys isn't necessarily
Janice Williams
May 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I just finished "What the Zhang Boys Know" last night and loved it. I purchased the ebook version and read it in about four evenings before bedtime. I love the set-up of the book, which concerns the residents of a condo building. I like the way each chapter relates to the others, but is a short story, of sorts, in itself. I've always liked this format in fiction.

Some of the characters are Chinese or Chinese-American, and Chinese culture has always interested me in fiction. When I read the autho
Betsy Ashton
Aug 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
If you are looking for a different experience in fiction, I invite you to read What the Zhang Boys Know, a novel in stories by Clifford Garstang. Twelve interlocking stories, each one capable of standing alone, weave a story about a disparate group of characters who inhabit Nanking Mansion, a semi-gentrified building in a marginal area of Washington, D.C.

We first meet Zhang Feng-qi, widowed father of two boys under six in "Nanking Mansion." Faced with losing his boys to his pushy mother-in-law w
Sep 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang is a collection of interconnected stories set in the Nanking Mansion. The Mansion was redone into twelve condos.

The residents of the condos were all unique but I felt most comfortable with the Zhang Feng family. The core characters were widowed Zhang Feng, his father from Shanghai and his two boys, Wesley and Simon.

I loved the little boys and their child like thinking. The boys burst into the lives of the inhabitants and often leave a trail of delig
Tricia Dower
Oct 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
An intelligent and compelling collection of original stories about characters who live in a condo building called Nanking Mansion and appear in each other’s stories. My favorites are the poignant six in which Feng-qi Zhang, his motherless sons, his father and his girlfriend appear. The collection is book-ended by two of these stories, giving the collection the feel of a novel brought to a satisfying conclusion, in this case a story of love lost, love found and love lost again. The last story, “T ...more
Aug 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Nanking Mansion is a sprawling subdivided house located in an (almost gentrified) area of Washington DC and populated by a host of fascinating multicultural characters whose lives intersect by virtue of their shared space. WHAT THE ZHANG BOYS KNOW gives us a glimpse into these lives, each one more enticing than the last, as the stories accumulate to tell an intricate and multilayered tale of love and loss and the lingering effects of both. The enticing narrative pull of these stories left me fee ...more
Len Joy
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
John Casey says of Garstang’s linked collection of stories, “The lives of the inhabitants of a condominium in in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown are told separately and as part of a web of entanglements…but the empathy of the author brings all the characters achingly alive.”

I can’t really describe this gem of a collection any better than that. “Achingly alive,” is exactly how I felt about these characters. The residents of Nanking Mansion suffer and stumble and screw up, but each in their own way s
Jonathan Rintels
Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. The engaging stories of the eclectic condo owners in the "Nanking Mansion" in DC's Chinatown are woven together masterfully. The characters are sharply observed. The details are delicious. This is a work of art created by an author who clearly knows his craft. Read this book and pass it on. Be a part of the broad readership that it deserves. ...more
Bonnie ZoBell
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful linked collection set in a low-income neighborhood in Washington, DC. The Zhang boys and their father are trying to recover from the death of their mother and wife, difficult emotionally as well as in their life style. Who will take care of the boys? They kids help the reader to explore the many other tenants living in the building, all eccentric in their own ways. A great read.
Oct 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
These are moving stories of lives accidentally touching through close proximity in the condominium of a busy cosmopolitan city. I found it excellent writing and story telling, realistic, with a framework that is perfect for these stories of urban life.
Nov 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-book
Check out SummerBooks for a complete and thorough discussion of What the Zhang Boys Know (complete with fancy drink recommendation). :-)
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's remarkable the depth the author brings to his characters - as if he's lived each life himself. Amazing writing/ very enjoyable book. ...more
Sep 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Zhang boys, young Simon and Wesley, live with their father, Feng-qi, in the Nanking Mansion, a 12-unit condominium building in the Washington, DC area near Chinatown. Zhang Feng-qi is a widower; his American wife was recently killed in a car accident. Although none of their parents approved of their marriage, his father has moved here from China and his mother-in-law has just arrived for a visit to help with the boys. The boys believe their mother is coming back; Feng-qi is searching for a r ...more
Laura Azzi
Jun 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: book clubs
Recommended to Laura by: Wonderland book club
Clifford Garstang’s What the Zhang Boys Know is an imaginative novel told in short stories about the inhabitants of Nanking Mansion condominiums in Chinatown, Washington, DC. Garstang’s wonderful prose weaves an intense storyline as each short story shifts the spotlight from character to character, condominium to condominium. Each character’s life is very real and engaging, often funny and dark in nature. Garstang navigates you through the moving and often distressing tragedy of complicated live ...more
Trish Izzo
Sep 14, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, short-story
What the Zhang Boys Know: A Novel in Stories by Clifford Garstang is a book of interconnected short stories which gives us a glimpse into the lives of several neighbors in a Washington DC condominium building.

In the first story, Nanking Mansion, we meet the Zhang family, which consists of the father Feng-qi, his two sons, Simon and Wesley, and Feng-qi’s father, who has recently come from China to live with them. Feng-qi’s wife has died several months before, although the boys still do not fully
Laura de Leon
Nov 04, 2012 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

What the Zhang Boys know was an uneven collection of short stories, with a very definite voice that bound them even tighter than the shared location.

The stories I enjoyed most were the ones that directly involved the Zhang Boys. I found that the author's style worked very well for me with these, and I was able to identify with the characters fast enough to be invested, even in the small space of an individual story.

I wish that the story "What the Zhang Boys Know about Life on the Planet
T.L. Sherwood
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For the most part, the twelve stories are well balanced and it has a genuinely interesting flow. The residents of Nanking Mansion often base their opinions of others on appearances, which Suzanna in “The Game of Love,” warns against. While her ex-lover is across the street watching her, she knows that “he is blind to the woman she has always wanted to be.” I loved that line, as I know I’m capable of overlooking other people’s growth. Feng-qi in “The Shrine to His Ancestors” concludes that “life ...more
Paulette Livers
Apr 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers drawn to story collections with immigrant/assimilation issues
Recommended to Paulette by: Jody Hobbs Hesler
The line between "linked story collection" and "novel-in-stories" has been a popular discussion topic at literary conferences for a while now. Whether this book reads for you as a collection or novel will depend on which side of that line you find yourself. Each "chapter" definitely stands alone as a tightly constructed story, as witnessed by the impressive list of publications which have accepted them in the years leading up to the book's release. My own take is that a single individual story h ...more
Nov 02, 2012 rated it liked it
The building is known as the Nanking Mansion. Home to twelve condos and an assortment of characters, it serves as the connecting web between the short stories in Clifford Garstang's What the Zhang Boys Know.

First we meet Zhang Feng-qi and his sons, Simon and Wesley. Feng-qi has recently lost his wife to a tragic car accident. He's struggling in his new role as a single father and hopes that he'll soon find a woman who can help fill the hole his wife left in her death. He's also just recently bro
Nov 09, 2012 rated it liked it
I am generally not a fan of short stories; they are all literary and float somewhere way above my head mocking me with my inability to understand them. Rife with deep hidden meanings that my very literal thought processes will never manage to uncover. If I had read any one of the stories included in What the Zhang Boys Know I would still feel that way, but taken together they help to explain each other a bit. I can't say I completely understand all the nuances but I am at least not completely lo ...more
Oct 31, 2012 rated it liked it
Each chapter comprising What the Zhang Boys Know belongs to a different resident in a condo complex, which is a unique method of story-telling. The characters' lives intertwine to an extent, making the sum of the short stories into a short novel. All the residents are neighbours of Zhang Feng-qi, a recent widower raising two young sons and in search of a mother for his children. As the individuals' stories reveal their lives, trials and loves; we learn that the young Zhang boys know a lot more t ...more
« previous 1 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
James River Writers: Currently Reading 2 16 Nov 18, 2013 06:54PM  
James River Writers: Finished Reading, Spoilers Allowed 2 12 Nov 18, 2013 06:54PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Hey Joey Journal
  • Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad #3)
  • The Pull of the Stars
  • The Missing World
  • In the Midst of Winter
  • Disappearing Earth
  • Short Takes: Brief Encounters with Contemporary Nonfiction
  • Cry to Heaven
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
  • Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games
  • The Teacher
  • The Salt Path
  • Frog Music
  • Women Talking
  • The Mountains Sing
  • The Engineer's Wife
  • The Confessions of Frannie Langton
  • The Mercies
See similar books…
Clifford Garstang grew up in the Midwest and received a BA from Northwestern University. After serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea, he earned an MA in English and a JD, both from Indiana University, and practiced international law in Singapore, Chicago, and Los Angeles with one of the largest law firms in the United States. Subsequently, he earned an MPA in International Development ...more

Related Articles

  Mateo Askaripour is a Brooklyn-based writer whose debut novel, Black Buck—which Colson Whitehead calls a “mesmerizing novel, executing a high...
71 likes · 8 comments