Jade Chang is the author of the new novel The Wangs vs. the World. She has worked for the BBC, Metropolis, Glamour, and other publications, and she lives in Los Angeles.
Q: You’ve said that you wanted to “write an immigrant novel that was kind of a rebellion against immigrant novels.” Can you say more about that, and about how you came up with the idea for the Wang family?
A: Sure! I think that traditionally, in America, stories of immigrant and people of color that get a platform are generally stories of pain.
Sometimes it’s small-scale pain, like the problem of not fitting in to mainstream society, and sometimes it’s far more large-scale, like the giant pain of slavery. When those are the only stories that get told, everyone loses.
And that’s not to say that I don’t love many of the immigrant novels that have come before mine, it’s just that I think it’s time that we heard another kind of story. And I think many people agree—in 2016 we’ve seen an increasingly broader range of narratives.
With the Wangs, I knew that I wanted to write about a family that was larger-than-life and genuinely fun to read about, who do not see themselves as outsiders. That thought doesn’t even enter their minds! They are absolutely central to their own stories, and to the story of America.
Q: Money is a big issue throughout the novel. Why did you decide to focus on that as one of the novel’s themes?
A: Money is endlessly interesting because, of course, money isn’t just money! It’s a symbol of how we place value on something, and it can buy freedom just as easily as it can buy a material good, if you know how to use it.
Also, I really wanted to set this book in the summer of 2008, during the financial collapse, because that was such a strange, uncertain time.
Q: You go back and forth among various characters’ points of view—did you plan that from the beginning, and was there one perspective you especially enjoyed?
A: I always like a challenge, and the idea of writing from each character’s POV was exciting to me. Yes, that was definitely the plan from the very start. I honestly loved each one as I was writing them, but I’d say that I most enjoyed writing Andrew’s stand-up comedy scenes!
Q: Much of the novel takes place during a family road trip. Why did you structure it that way, and do you have any favorite novels that take place on road trips?
A: Road trips really do lend themselves to novels! They’re just about the right length. Also, I wanted to get an on-the-ground view of America, and this was a great way to do it!
I do love the classic American road trip narratives like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, On the Road, and Lolita, but I also love Station Eleven—it’s a post-apocalyptic journey that has two important road trip elements: discovery and nostalgia.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Another novel! But it’s not really at the discussion stage yet!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb