Jane Lo’s All I ever wanted: A Tale of Love and Identity
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada, Jane Lo brings to life the vibrant, multicultural world of her experiences in her debut novel, “All I Ever Wanted.” Drawing from her background, Lo explores the complex themes of cultural identity and cross-cultural relationships, taking readers on a captivating journey with Norah and Ben, the novel’s main characters. With her eloquent prose and keen insight into the human experience, Jane Lo delivers a powerful story of love, family, and the importance of self-discovery. In our conversation, we delve into her inspirations, her writing process, and the significance of the novel’s title, providing readers with a deeper understanding of the author and her work.
How did your own experiences as a Chinese-Canadian living in Hong Kong influence the story and characters in All I Ever Wanted?
To me, Hong Kong is a place that’s always undergoing change. It’s a very transient sort of place – it’s not unusual for people from other countries to come and live here for a time, before moving on. Similarly, lots of local Hong Kong people choose to emigrate, but some have returned to resettle again. This was the case with my family – we moved to Vancouver when I was just one, and those years in Canada profoundly shaped my identity and my understanding of the world. And although Norah’s upbringing is not the same as mine, there are certainly similarities, and as a result, she struggles in the in-between of Chinese and Western ways of thinking: how much does a child owe his mother, financially and otherwise? How much authority does a mother-in-law have in a family, especially when grandchildren are involved? Is a child ever allowed to be his own person, or does he owe his whole life to his mother?
What inspired you to explore the themes of cultural identity and the challenges of cross-cultural relationships in your novel?
I have always been fascinated by these themes and actively seek out books to read that explore these topics. However, there doesn’t seem to be very many love stories set in Hong Kong that explore cultural identity, even though this is what I really wanted to read!
Were any of the characters in the book based on real people in your life, or are they entirely fictional?
They are fictional! But Joey reminds me quite strongly of my son, Theo, when he was a baby.
How did you approach writing about the challenges faced by Norah and Ben as they navigate their marriage and the expectations placed on them by their families?
I am a mother with young children, and many of my friends are too, so I am a bit of an expert when it comes to the struggles that are part and parcel of this stage of life! The problems that Norah and Ben go through were my own worst nightmares. I think a lot of Hong Kong people feel a sense of indebtedness to their parents, a lot of in-law relationships in Hong Kong are at least a little bit strained, and a lot of young couples don’t make quite enough money or have enough space to live comfortably – but for Norah Ben, these issues spiral out of control.
Can you discuss the significance of the title, “All I Ever Wanted,” and how it relates to the characters and their journeys?
Yes! I feel like in Hong Kong there is a lot of striving. There’s a well-loved Leslie Cheung song, ‘追’ (which can be translated as ‘pursue’ or ‘chase’), that everybody knows and which captures this relentless striving well – but ultimately concludes that the most important thing is the people we love. In All I Ever Wanted, Nai Nai, Norah, and Ben are striving, surviving, and not quite thriving – but what really matters? What is the point of it all? The answers they find surprise them.
Which character in the book did you find the most enjoyable or challenging to write, and why?
The character I most enjoyed writing was Ben. He is also my favorite character – he tries so hard to do what is right for everybody but in the process nearly loses himself. I think Norah is very lucky to be so loved by her husband. After reading All I Ever Wanted, one of my good friends messaged me and said, I wish everyone in the world can find their Ben and I felt so moved by that because I really do hope everyone can be loved the way Ben loves Norah, so completely and selflessly
In All I Ever Wanted, there is a strong focus on the role of family and in-laws. How did you decide to incorporate these dynamics into the narrative, and what challenges did you face when writing these relationships?
I have in-laws! They are nothing like Nai Nai, but as a new daughter-in-law I did learn that not all families operate in exactly the same way – and I could imagine little differences escalating if anyone wanted to hold a grudge or actively stir up trouble. I knew that these dynamics would be recognizable to a lot of readers.
Photos and illustrations courtesy of Jane Lo