The road trip

Elle (Canada) - - Radar -

Jade Chang sim­ply de­scribes her book, The Wangs vs. the World, as “the story of what hap­pens when a fam­ily loses all their money,” so al­low us to fill in a few de­tails: The pa­tri­arch, a Chi­nese im­mi­grant who made a for­tune in the makeup busi­ness, is the orig­i­na­tor and loser of the wealth, and his chil­dren—teenage Grace, col­lege-go­ing Andrew—are the ones who find them­selves without trust funds in the midst of the 2008 global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. Oh, and they all leave their fore­closed Bel Air, Calif., home and go on a road trip (with their step­mother) to see the only fam­ily mem­ber still sol­vent: first-born Saina, an artist who lives in up­state New York and has her own is­sues to deal with. (It’s not easy be­ing an It girl, okay?) Ac­tu­ally, Chang adds this: “In its truest sense, it’s a book about im­mi­grants who never ques­tion their place in Amer­ica.”

Chang was work­ing at a lux­ury mag­a­zine when the re­ces­sion hit, and it was her “front-row seat to the spec­ta­cle of rich peo­ple freak­ing out” that partly in­spired the book. “There was this sense that any­thing could hap­pen: In­sti­tu­tions that seemed im­pen­e­tra­ble were col­laps­ing, the world was turn­ing up­side down and no one re­ally knew where things would be in a month or a year. I loved the idea of each of my char­ac­ters be­ing in a mo­ment of tur­moil at the same time that the larger forces that gov­ern their lives—the fam­ily, the busi­ness, the coun­try it­self—are also in upheaval.”

The fam­ily’s con­ver­sa­tion weaves in Man­darin, which Chang de­lib­er­ately left un­trans­lated, “to bring read­ers in­side this fam­ily, and part of that ex­pe­ri­ence is the fact that this fam­ily some­times speaks Man­darin to one an­other.” She points out that that’s not the only code she leaves un­de­ci­phered: “Fash­ion is a lan­guage too! The whole fam­ily cares about clothes, and I was very spe­cific about a lot of their choices and about the la­bels that are re­ferred to. An ELLE Canada reader will prob­a­bly get all of those ref­er­ences and get to un­der­stand an­other di­men­sion of each of the Wangs.”

You, dear reader, will also find some­thing else im­me­di­ately re­lat­able: Chang’s in­sight­ful, emo­tional por­trayal of fam­ily dy­nam­ics that will have you call­ing your mom (and ev­ery­one else—even Great-Aunt Maude in Skookum­chuck). n

“There was this sense that any­thing could hap­pen: the world was turn­ing up­side down and no one re­ally knew where things would be in a month or a year.”

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