Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on October 4th 2016
A hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent—and about the road trip they take across America that binds them back together
Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands—and his pride.
Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.
Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America—and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.
One of Entertainment Weekly's Most Anticipated Titles of 2016
A Fall 2016 Barnes & Noble Discover Pick
A Publishers Lunch Fall 16 Buzz Book
A The Millions Most Anticipated Book
One of Library Journal’s “Five Big Debuts” for Fall 16
Good morning Book Brief-ers! Today I am super excited to have author Jade Chang here to talk about her new book The Wangs vs. The World.
You delve into so many different worlds in this book—there’s art, stand-up comedy, finance, beauty, style blogs…how did you research each one? And is there anything that connects them?
I like the idea of a gleeful con, and to me that is an aspect of both the art world and the world of finance. Besides that, I also think that each one of these creative worlds involves a fine balance of art and artifice, of true effort and pure swagger, and I find both sides of that equation to be really interesting and worth examining.
As for research, the answer is different for each one of the worlds! I probably had the most fun with comedy. Andrew, the middle child, is an aspiring stand-up and a true comedy nerd. I wrote two actual stand-up sets for Andrew, and I watched hours and hours of standup comedy to get myself in the right mindset. There’s an amazing comedy scene here in LA, and I went to a lot of live shows around town, watched hours of Asian comedians on YouTube (we need some more Asian comedians with one-hour specials!), and also watched pretty much every special on Netflix. It’s addictive. After a while I started to feel like I was constantly trying to turn all the bits of life into joke setups and that maybe I really just wanted to be a stand-up! I actually took an improv class at UCB (the theater started by Amy Poehler and three friends)—it was both amazing and slightly disastrous.
Charles builds up a cosmetics empire almost by accident, because his father was running a factory that manufactured urea. What was your inspiration for this and what is your personal relationship with cosmetics and beauty?
It was a combination of many factors. One, I’ve always been very interested in family fortunes that are built on a single thing. One friend’s family has a box factory, another has a thread factory. And then a few years ago I was © Emma McIntyre writing an article about the elusive nighttime scents of Los Angeles that involved speaking to a perfumier—she told me about how musk is actually obtained, and about how urea is used in cosmetics—the disgusting made divine. At my last magazine job I oversaw the beauty section, which was a very cush assignment because I was sent an endless stream of products and got haircuts and massages around town so that I could put together a beauty special that came out once a year! I started reading the labels and noticing that urea really was present in so many products, and the idea of an ambitious, hard-charging entrepreneur who lands in the beauty world because he’s making the best of what he has presented itself and just seemed really appealing to me. As for my personal relationship towards makeup—I really don’t wear very much of it. Mascara and lip gloss, mainly. But even though I don’t use it, I can still spend hours wandering around Sephora, envisioning myself as someone else entirely!
On another note, I’m also interested in depicting people of color occupying space in creative worlds without a lot of angst and, most importantly, without questioning their own legitimacy. Andrew and Saina might struggle over their work, and their experiences and knowledge as Chinese people definitely influences their work, but they do not struggle over their Chineseness. I think that’s something that we don’t see enough, but it’s the lived reality of many people of color—including myself!—and representing that feels important to me.
Is the story of the Wangs similar to your own family story?
Charles’s backstory is similar to my parents’ background, but my sister and I definitely did not grow up on a Bel-Air estate! And there was no new, American-built fortune—cosmetics or otherwise—to lose. Like Charles, both of my parents are from families that had to flee China during and after WWII and they both grew up in Taiwan, which is where Charles grew up as well. There’s an entire generation of families who lost land and fortunes in mainland China and fled to Taiwan with the Nationalist Army. It’s an interesting and troubled history, and it’s part of the Chinese diaspora that hasn’t been written about in a lot of contemporary fiction, so I was definitely interested in giving the Wangs that same family background.
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When Charles Wangs’ cosmetic empire goes under, what can he do? Find out in The Wangs vs the World
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I partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to share this awesome cosmetic giveaway with you and to show you about The Wangs vs. The World.
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I have heard so many good things about this book, and look forward to reading it. Great interview!
A real good movie i seen was called Risen
I enjoyed the interview and have heard fantastic things about the book! I am looking forward to reading it. My ancestors came here and did things like fishing and farming…no Bel Air house for us! Thanks!
Lisa Coomer Queen
I am enjoying reading Tempted By A Vampire by Susan Griscom.
I recommend The Everafter by Amy Huntley 🙂
I recommend “My Lady Jane.”
Beth Ann Tilley
I’m reading Crimson Death by Laurell K. Hamilton
Great post! Read so many raves for this.
You have to see the movie Train to Busan. It’s a great movie!