Local author Kathy Wang seeks to captivate readers once again with her new novel, “Impostor Syndrome,” released May 25 by publisher HarperCollins.
Wang, a longtime Los Altos resident, said she wanted to give readers her sincere view of life here through her book, an espionage thriller set in Silicon Valley.
“I wrote this book earnestly about the things I truly felt made America a place that immigrants wanted to move to,” she said. “So even though it’s being presented as a satire or a thriller, in my heart it’s really about America and why my parents and people from all over the world want to move here and why I hope it remains a place like that.”
“Impostor” focuses on two protagonists. Julia Lerner is an intelligence officer for Russia who has managed to infiltrate Tangerine, one of America’s largest technology companies, rising through the ranks to become the chief operating officer. Alice Lu is a first-generation Chinese-American graduate of MIT and a low-level worker at Tangerine who is on to Lerner’s secret.
Like Wang’s first book, “Family Trust,” the title of her latest offering went through several iterations before being finalized. She said one name under consideration was “The Un-Americans,” a clear reference to the similarly named the television series about Russian spies living in the U.S.
Both lead characters in Wang’s book experience some level of impostor syndrome; Lerner was placed in Tangerine through illegitimate means, and Lu does not feel she is qualified to work for the company.
“I wanted to have a person who some might say should have impostor syndrome but doesn’t because they are confident, and a person who you would think shouldn’t have impostor syndrome but does,” Wang said.
Lu discovers a major security breach in Tangerine’s systems and is shocked to find Lerner may be the cause. At the same time, Russia wants Lerner to risk all that she built up on her own in the states, causing an internal struggle between patriotic loyalty and personal happiness.
“In ‘Impostor Syndrome,’ you definitely have that dichotomy between someone who’s at the very top of a tech company and has benefited from large equity ownership and wealth creation and typical low-level Asian-American worker bee,” Wang said. “I’m personally very familiar with that type of experience and their existence in Silicon Valley.”
The ensuing cat-and-mouse chase between the two protagonists is the backdrop for Wang’s social commentary about gender, race, family, the technology industry, foreign nationals who undermine the U.S. while loving its values and the allure of the American dream.
Several reviews and blurbs call Wang’s work satirical, but she disagrees.
“I really don’t view my books as satire. If you live in the Bay Area, if you just report what’s actually happening, that’s already outrageous enough,” she said. “You don’t really need to exaggerate anything for comic effect. For me, it’s more just an actual commentary on things that are actually or realistically could be occurring. Some of what is going on in the Bay Area is satirical enough.”
Progress and process
When writing “Imposter,” Wang said she stuck to the same goal she had when writing “Family Trust”: Write 1,000 words a day. Wang said she is the type of author who needs to set aside a certain amount of time each day to write to make progress.
While she was writing her first book, Wang was pregnant with her youngest child, yet said she managed to strike a good balance between parenting and writing. But during the process for “Impostor,” finding that balance proved more difficult, Wang said, because she now has two kids requiring a lot of attention and there was a pandemic going on.
When she last spoke with the Town Crier, Wang described receiving a racist comment on one of her initial manuscripts during the publishing process for her first book. It said that no one would buy her book because Asians are “money obsessed.” It wasn’t an isolated incident.
“If you’re a minority who is creating art and putting something into the public atmosphere, you’ll always receive comments like that,” Wang said. “They range from people who are deliberately aggressive to people who get offended if you tell them that a comment is racist.”
Additionally, Wang did not want a Chinese person as an antagonist for fears it would stoke anti-Asian sentiment. She began writing the book before COVID-19 emerged, but there was plenty of Sinophobia permeating public rhetoric.
“Originally I didn’t want to name Russia as the country either, I just wanted it to be an unnamed Eastern European country,” she said, adding that her fears also led her to write a Chinese American as the good protagonist.
Despite all the hardships, Wang said it was easier to write “Impostor” than “Family Trust.”
“When I wrote my first book, I definitely didn’t have a lot of the infrastructure in place. You need to find an agent and get published by a traditional publisher,” she said.
Wang noted that she now knows more about the editing and publication processes and has developed a good working relationship with HarperCollins.
For more information on Wang and her books, visit bykathywang.com.