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An Interview with Sophie Wan

In some ways I regret how I thought about marriage on the day of my wedding, December 7, 2013. At the time, my partner and I believed that God had led us to one another, that divorce could only be a tragic last resort, and that it was my husband’s role as a man to be the “leader” in our family.

Ten years and a fundamental shift in beliefs later, somewhat impossibly, we’re still together. We changed in many of the same ways at roughly the same times, and our relationship supported those changes rather than cracking beneath them. Now, with two young children, we relate to one another on a day-to-day basis largely as co-parents. Sometimes I think our wedding—with its tealight-topped tables, signature cocktails, and professional photographer—set the wrong expectations for a life together, and that we should have signed a contract instead. And yet, now, as I sit in a coffee shop across from my spouse, writing these lines, the song from our first dance, “Beast of Burden,” plays on the cafe speakers overhead. I look up at my husband, who is listening to a work call with his headphones plugged into his ears, he looks up at me, and we smile.

Women of Good Fortune (Graydon House; March 5, 2024), Sophie Wan’s debut novel, is the story of a lavish Shanghai wedding, a large pool of cash gifts, and a bride who hatches a plan with her two best friends. During my interview with Sophie—whom I’ve known since 2022—I asked her a question about being single, only to learn that she has been partnered for over five years. We couldn’t stop laughing. Her boyfriend is obviously important to her, but in our years of talking about our writing (and our ambitions for our writing), I don’t remember him ever coming up.

The characters in Sophie’s novel experience a narrative arc that is in some ways the reverse of mine and my husband’s: They start off with a practical, even calculated, view of marriage that is changed by the events of the book. I was lucky—fortunate!—to sit down with Sophie and discuss what Women of Good Fortune reveals about friendship, marriage, money, our inability to forsake the idea of romantic love, and the changing ways women are seeking power.

Women of Good Fortune is a platonic love story, and yet it contains several romantic subplots. Do you believe romantic love is still worth seeking out?
I’m definitely a romantic at heart. When I was younger, I would paw through the library shelves looking for any book with a romance subplot. I’m a sucker for heart-fluttering moments, but I no longer think that they are enough. The fulfillment you get from your friendships and other pursuits can be enough of a reward. That being said, I think we should still keep our hearts open to romantic love because it is yet another lens through which to see the world.

What can we learn from romance? How can we grow?
I think about scenes from movies where the world just looks different when you’re in love. The colors are brighter, you can hear the birdsong, and you dance on your way to the DMV. Love adds texture to our experience of the world, and it can also be the thing that lifts us out of loneliness. When we love, we change, too. We make space in our lives for another person, and oftentimes it pushes us to be more selfless and generous.

In stories that honor friendship, the friendship often stays the same over time or experiences conflict but then returns to its previous idyllic state. I have to say I was surprised at your willingness to test the bounds of these friendships.
I wanted to be realistic about the shape that friendships take, and how they can get battered by life and changing personalities. It’s been on my mind a lot as I’ve grown older and experienced people moving away, losing touch, or picking friendships back up because life manages to bring them together again. In Women of Good Fortune, a lot happens to these three women. They find love, they discover their true desires, they realize how wrong they might have been in the past. I think it would be doing them an injustice if they weren’t allowed to react to one another's growth, and sometimes to disagree with the direction that growth is taking. At the same time, they learn from their own failures in their friendships, and this pushes them to be braver and stronger individually.

I could particularly relate to the idea of weddings changing friendships. Do you think big weddings feel a bit garish in 2024?
I think weddings can be whatever people want them to be. If you want a huge celebration with all your extended family and friends, then that is what you should do. What I think makes weddings absurd is the amount of stress they place on the people getting married. The couple should be the ones who have the best time, and sometimes so much energy is spent on puzzling your way through complex seating arrangements or fussing over napkin colors that the real purpose of this ceremony seems to be forgotten.

I would really love to normalize registering for gifts, whether there’s a wedding in your future or not.
As someone who prefers to get practical gifts, I agree. It makes things so easy both ways; now your friends don’t have to wrack their brains trying to think whether or not you’d like that 3D-printed model of your dog, and you can get something that you actually wanted!

Maybe this book is a way to enjoy the spectacle of weddings without actually having to put on your Spanx and go to one.
We all love getting a glimpse into how the wealthy do things, especially when it comes to throwing a wild party. After conceptualizing the wedding in Women of Good Fortune, I personally have even less energy to dress up and hit the road for a real wedding.

Did you pull a full-on Pinterest when you were planning this fictional wedding?
I definitely looked up a lot of Asian weddings, and I do have a Pinterest board that’s basically all gold and red-toned for this book. I also watched a documentary on BBC called Million Dollar Wedding Planner, just to make sure I was being the right amount of extravagant.

I read that Kevin Kwan had to tone down the extravagance in Crazy Rich Asians because Americans wouldn’t believe it. Actually, WOGF is being marketed to fans of CRA. How does it feel to be part of that legacy? Are there downsides to being compared to such a famous book?
I’ll forever be grateful to Crazy Rich Asians and Kevin Kwan for creating space in mainstream culture for Asian perspectives and stories. I don’t know if my book, set in a foreign country and centering foreign customs, would have been accepted otherwise. Given how commercially successful Crazy Rich Asians has been, I feel honored but also stressed when I see the comparison. Although this book has plenty of extravagance, fancy cars, and bougie settings, I hope that the three women at the center of the story are still relatable. They’re more witnesses to high society than active participants, and their problems echo those that many modern women across social classes face.

There was so much about American culture that I recognized in your depiction of Shanghai: the obsession with a certain type of beauty, abusive workplaces, hyperconsumerism … What made you decide to set the book there?
Simply put, I craved escape. I had made plans to visit China in 2020, but that didn’t end up happening. Also, I might be Chinese, but I’ve always felt a distance between myself and the country that my parents are from. This book was also an opportunity to educate myself about Chinese culture and to have deeper conversations with my parents about work, life, and marriage there.

Did you learn anything about your parents that you didn’t know before?
I think I felt a bit of despair, honestly. I realized how much they had to teach me, and how far I existed from the place that my parents came from.

Did you learn anything new about yourself?
I wouldn’t say this is a new lesson, but I realized the scale of the stories that existed in my parents’ heads, and I had this new hunger to absorb everything I could learn from them and get some kind of glimpse of the lives they lived before America and before me.

I think sometimes it’s easier to see the cracks in your own culture when they’re mirrored in another.
Through the process of researching the book, I discovered that many of the issues that women face—in the workplace, around their appearance, and in their attainment of status—exist everywhere. We’re truly not so different!

This is a book about women chasing fortune, but what is fortune? How is it defined?
Fortune is a big concept in Chinese culture. There are all types of things you can do to improve your fortune, which in most cases just means increasing your chances of making a lot of money. That’s how Women of Good Fortune begins, too, with these three women who are convinced that money is the only way to improve their fortunes.

Why did you choose to structure Women of Good Fortune around a heist? What does it say about the changing ways women are seeking power?
I wrote this book because many of my friends were feeling the pressure to be in relationships or think about marriage. (The title is a twist on the famous first line of Pride and Prejudice.) What I found scary was how their parents would sometimes use guilt and shame, as if it was solely the childrens’ fault that they were still single. I believe that finding someone who might look good on paper doesn’t mean there’s always love there, and you shouldn’t feel the pressure to force something that doesn’t exist. Women used to not be able to own land, vote, or make decisions without their husbands. Now, look! We have the freedom to create our own fortune, and what a pity it would be to let the groans of society stop us from doing that.

At the beginning, the women are still chasing patriarchal notions of “fortune.” How does that change by the end?
What they begin to learn is that their futures are their own to decide. By the end, we know that they’re quite fortunate—but not because of the money they’ve made. Instead, it’s their friendships and their own strength that bring them the things they most desire.

How does friendship (female or otherwise) enter into your own life as a writer?
Writing has been a really lonely road for the most part, but I’ve been lucky enough to find a few dear critique partners who are not only people whose feedback I value, but who I can trust with my doubts. I have leaned on many of my non-writing friends to help me through periods of self-criticism. Sometimes you just need a good friend to slap you in the face (metaphorically) and remind you of how far you’ve come.

When it comes to those friendships, how do you balance competition with cooperation?
Writing is competitive if you think about it in the context of lists, awards, and rankings. But stories like mine wouldn’t exist if not for the success of other Asian authors who were published before me, which is why it ultimately benefits us to uplift fellow writers. At the end of the day, I think we stand to benefit a lot more from supporting one another. Publishing is hard and lonely enough as it is.


SOPHIE WAN spent too long writing emails before she picked up writing fiction. As a Bay Area native, she has no choice but to enjoy outdoor activities, but prefers those where her feet remain firmly on the ground. Her debut novel, Women of Good Fortune, is out now.

ACREE GRAHAM MACAM is the author of The King of the Birds (Groundwood, 2016), a children’s book about Flannery O’Connor. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative, Harvard Review, Nerve, Tasteful Rude, and Incluvie. She is currently earning her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program.


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