Crazy, Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
In library school (yes, there’s such a thing, it’s a master’s program in Library and Information Science that trains professional librarians) students learn Rosenberg’s First Law of Reading: “Never apologize for your reading taste.”
So there’s no need to feel embarrassed if you occasionally (or regularly) get sucked into reading something lowbrow. Reading can be recreational, after all, and why not have fun? Crazy Rich Asians, which came out in 2013, is Kevin Kwan’s satirical comedy of manners that skewers the Chinese and Malaysian jet set. The rom-com movie version is scheduled to be released this summer, so grab a copy of the book now and you’ll be ahead of the game.
This fun and frivolous novel starts with family trees tracing the relationships between several of Singapore’s ruling elite dynasties. The cast of characters is lengthy and confusing (is it Astrid Leung who only wears couture but shuns Louis Vuitton? Or Fiona Tung who receives a stunning sapphire necklace from her Ah Ma but loans it to her cousin’s American Born Chinese girlfriend?), but you don’t need to stress about it.
The protagonist is Rachel Chu, a professor of economics at New York University who is persuaded by her dashing boyfriend Nick Young to join him at the wedding of his best friend Colin Khoo in Singapore. Little does Rachel know that this is going to be the event of the year, and Nick is the future heir to Sir James Young and Shang Su Yi’s immense fortune.
After meeting Colin’s fiancée Araminta, a fashion icon whose nouveau-riche parents are ponying up more than $40 million for the nuptials, Rachel is quickly circled by sharks at Araminta’s over-the-top bachelorette party. She’s immediately labeled a gold digger and the gossip network is all a-twitter, despite Rachel’s complete lack of awareness about Nick’s most eligible bachelor status.
Scene after scene of lavish opulence and catty conniving introduces readers to the intricacies of this ultra-rich social set. There are those who love comparing real estate holdings and stock options with other HNWIs (High Net Worth Individuals), those who greedily snap up knock-off designer purses versus those who wouldn’t be caught dead with a fake, and those who happily send their children to the very best prep schools and fly their private planes to Hong Kong and Macau and tiny Indonesian islands. Kwan sprinkles in plenty of Chinese and Malaysian slang for color.
If you haven’t read a book with Chinese characters since The Joy Luck Club or Wild Swans, Crazy Rich Asians will bring you up to speed. Fans of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes’ book Snobs, or even glitzy TV soap operas like Dallas or Dynasty will surely have a grand time devouring this novel. It even includes a little modern romance to sweeten the deal. In today’s never-ending news cycle of violence and destruction, a little escapism can really fill the bill.
Christine Perkins is the executive director of the Whatcom County Library System. She has been known to read her fair share of books with sparkly covers.
(Originally published in Cascadia Weekly, Wednesday, May 16, 2018.)