Jade Chang’s debut novel, “The Wangs Vs. the World,” follows the emotional journey of a family that has lost everything except each other. It’s also a very funny and incisive commentary on contemporary art, design and lifestyle.
It’s a story of an immigrant family whose patriarch Charles Wang has become hugely rich and loses all his money in the ‘08 economic crash. Wang gathers up his wife Barbra, his style blogger daughter Grace and Andrew, his would-be stand-up comedian son, and takes them on a road trip across the US to join his eldest daughter Saina, a fallen “It Girl” of the New York art world.
The story follows the emotional journey of a family that has lost everything except each other. It’s also a very funny and incisive commentary on contemporary art, design and lifestyle.
Before embarking on her novel, Jade wrote for design magazines such as Metropolis, “writing fairly seriously about architecture and design and about how we live in cities and how we’re affected by our built environment.”
When she needed mental space to work on the novel, she took a job as an editor at Angeleno, a “modern luxury” lifestyle magazine. She drew from that experience for her book, specifically a party she attended in ’08 for the Trump Tower Dubai (never built) that was so lavish — Wolfgang Puck was present, sprinkling gold dust on people’s hors d’oeuvres, Cirque du Soleil stilt walkers and Christina Aguilera — that she had a strong premonition that “we are about to collapse under the weight of our own access. . . Leaving that party I just thought to myself OK this is a crazy time; we are in this kind of charged, electric, unknown, kind of frightening and kind of exciting moment. And I just really wanted to set a story in that time.”
Chang also tapped into her fascination with design when it came to the book itself, and her publisher gave her a strong say in the look of the cover, which was designed by Kimberly Glyder. Along the way she learned just how much you can judge a book by its cover.
Jade Chang: While I was writing this book, you know part of the time I worked at Angeleno. But part of the time I also worked at Goodreads which is a books Web site and I saw so many books come through the office. And so I saw so many covers, so I definitely had the sense that you really can judge a book by its cover. There would be books that came through where we would just say, Yup this one is a winner. I don’t know anything that it’s about but this one’s going to stand out and most of the time we were right.
DnA: Did they usually have red in them? I ask because red is a color that generally is chosen for standout-ness and your cover is like a bloom of reds with a white title over it. Are you saying that that design went through some changes. Was that the concept?
Jade Chang: So the first design that I was shown, it was a kind of gold, glitter background and then it had nail polish swatches, lots of different lots of different colors. It looked sort of like a traditional watercolor swatches that you would see and then the the words on top of it sans serif caps in White also which doesn’t sound that different from this cover. But I saw it and just was not so much a fan of it although everyone else in the publishing house did really like it.
But luckily the designer had been working on two other iterations as well, and this was one of them. And then we went through a few different steps with the lettering as well because it was originally this hand done script that was very pretty. But it felt too soft to me and I really wanted to look like it was written by a very busy businessman who just kind of dashes something off on a piece of hotel stationery. So, yes, this was her interpretation of that which I really love. And it’s been really interesting seeing the reaction to this.
And then it’s been really interesting because the book is coming out in a few different countries and seeing the designs in different countries has been really interesting too. For example, in the U.K. apparently covers that are more abstract like this one don’t tend to sell as well. And so the U.K. cover actually has a little car going to different cities and kind of going across places.
DnA: Your name is Jade Chang and your characters are the Wangs. That looks like a kind of visual play.
Jade Chang: You know that’s actually interesting because they originally didn’t want to have that. It says The Wangs Versus The World and then it says “a novel.” And then Jade Chang. And originally they didn’t want to insert that “a novel” designation but I felt it would be too confusing especially to people who maybe aren’t that used to Chinese names where it would seem just like one long title: “The Wangs Versus The World Jade Chang.”
I felt like we needed a little stop in there.