It’s the Nerdette Book Club! It’s just like a normal book club, except sometimes the author shows up, too.
This month’s selection is a wonderful summer romance novel, Last Tang Standing, from debut author Lauren Ho.
The book follows the story of Andrea Tang, a 33-year-old Chinese-Malaysian lawyer, as she tries to make partner at her Singaporean law firm while fending off the unhealthy interest her family has in her love life.
Before she wrote this novel, Ho herself was a Chinese-Malaysian lawyer living in Singapore, but she made it clear there are plenty of differences between her life and Andrea’s.
“In case anyone from my family is listening in, you guys are nothing like the relatives in the book,” she told Nerdette. “You guys are great!”
Ahead of our panel discussion later this month, Ho talked with us about the reasons behind her huge career change, where the similarities between her and Andrea begin and end, and how Andrea was born “from the ashes of a comedy set where I bombed. Badly.”
Below are highlights from the conversation. And pick up a copy yourself and join us on July 31 for a longer discussion on Last Tang Standing.
Where Andrea and Lauren intersect
Lauren Ho: For me, work was such an important part of my identity. And I think for Andrea as well, she’s unhappy because she’s placing so much emphasis in her career, and she thinks that she’s supposed to be happy because her idea of work is tied to achievement, so the higher she climbs up the ladder, she feels like, “Oh, it’s like sunken cost. I’ve got to keep at it.” And who is she doing it for? She doesn’t even know.
So basically we have this woman who is outwardly so successful, but inwardly she’s a mess, and she doesn’t even understand why because she’s been conditioned to want this from family, from society.
And I’ve been there. My parents were not tiger parents at all, but I grew up in a very competitive environment and I myself am very competitive by nature. So all these expectations with society and maybe your own natural inclination to be competitive, it just leads you down these roads, and then one day you wake up and go, “Hang on. I’m not happy.”
So for Andrea work is a big part of the story because it’s wrapped up in her idea of what happiness should be. If she’s successful at work she’ll be happy. If she’s ticked the boxes that society tells her she should tick, she will be happy. So the romance and the work parts are equally important in Andrea’s life.
Creating a character through amateur stand-up comedy
Ho: When I was working in Singapore in Doctors Without Borders, to let off steam I decided to try my hand at stand-up, which was fun, and I got to use it as free therapy. So I would just go on stage and just let off steam, and people would wonder why I’m there. But I had so much fun and that’s basically how I got the idea for Andrea, because I was talking about conditional versus unconditional love in Asian parents. And so that’s how she was born, from the ashes of a comedy set where I bombed. Badly.
Greta Johnsen: Did you really bomb?
Ho: Yeah, I used to bomb quite badly in the beginning, like for the first three months. But it was so fun. It’s just going out there having zero expectations and just enjoying yourself on stage. And no, I don’t enjoy pain. It’s just fun. The process is fun.
The conversation was lightly edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button to hear the full episode.