Women of Good Fortune

Sophie Wan opens her debut novel with this bit of information:

“Sheng nu – ‘leftover women’ – unmarried women over the age of twenty-seven. Later adopted by the internet community to refer to often well-educated women who had passed the appropriate age for marriage.”

Wan then goes on to introduce readers to the protagonists of her novel: Rina, a young woman educated in the west who is keenly aware of her ticking biological clock as she pursues her career; Jane, a brand conscious fashionista forced by her parents into an arranged marriage; and Lulu, a restaurant hostess who has been supporting her family, who live in a more rural province, whose life is turned upside down when, after some sporadic dating, finds herself engaged to Shanghai’s most eligible bachelor.

These young women have bonded and become friends because they are “leftovers.” They all want things that only money can buy. And not one of them has the money to make those purchases, until they realize that Lulu’s engagement may provide the perfect opportunity for all of them to get what they want.

Lulu’s marriage will be attended by the most elite, and wealthy, of Shanghai and they will all be bearing gifts. Each will hope to outshine the other with their generosity. Quick calculations and projections result in an estimate that the gifts for the happy couple will be close to a million US dollars. Stealing the money won’t be easy and they will need help. But they have almost a year to plan and Lulu will be intimately involved in all of the planning, even if her future mother-in-law is actually making all of the decisions. And Jane and Rina will be right beside her as bridesmaids. They say that money can’t buy happiness, but for these women, it may be the ticket to their freedom.

In her debut novel, Sophie Wan follows Rina, Jane, and Lulu over the ten months leading up to the wedding as they research, recruit, strategize, and execute their plan to steal the wedding gifts. Needless to say, a lot happens over the course of those ten months and many of those developments directly impact the women in ways they did not anticipate. Wan explores the motivations each woman has for undertaking the risk of the theft, and, as the wedding date approaches, each comes to the realization that even if they are able to pull off the heist, there will still be considerable costs associated with their desires.

Wan explores Chinese cultural expectations of women and their responsibilities to families, friends, employers, and themselves with marvelous characters and in the setting of Shanghai.

In the end, Wan emphasizes that while we are often driven to extremes in the pursuit of what we want, we often ignore the fact that what we already have is infinitely more valuable. We just need to recognize it. 

Read an interview with the author here.