Crazy Rich Asians
By Kevin Kwan
You know you are in a completely different world when you hear a character, Francesca, tell another character, Isabel, why she can’t marry the man she loves, a fellow just made a senior vice president at a large bank. Sure, there’s the issue of his low-ranking family. Even more to the point, Francesca and the other young women agree that he simply earns too little, and that poor Isabel will live life as a pauper, a shunned one at that. His income? As Francesca puts it, “… a measly eight hundred thousand a year.”
It’s a world familiar to none of us, assuming you readers are not in the top one percent. And then there are the cultural differences, very well highlighted and explained by Kevin Kwan, who grew up well-off in Singapore, the setting for most of the novel. Crazy Rich Asians reads like any of the Housewives shows on the most potent steroid imaginable. It’s possibly one of the most gossipy novels you’ll read. And it’s being turned into a movie, and what an eye-popping dazzler it will be if it translates even a quarter of the novel’s settings and fashions on to film.
The overarching story is simple. Rachel Chu, an accomplished woman living in New York, has been in love and living with the equally accomplished and super handsome Nick Young. When Nick becomes his best friend’s groom, Colin Khoo, he decides it’s time to take Rachel to meet the folks in Singapore. Rachel, however, has no idea who Nick and his family are (just the most powerful, influential, and richest of the rich) and the rough ride she’s in for. She meets literally an opera’s worth of people who variously regard her as a rival, a gold digger, and an invader. And they subject her to torments throughout the novel, most petty, mean spirited, and a couple soul crushing. It’s Mean Girls, though, again, on powerful steroids.
Kwan’s writing is serviceable to the task. But what he excels at, and what makes the novel a really delight to read, is how he immerses you in Singapore, from the wealth, to the sights, to the food, and to the customs. Where necessary, he uses footnotes to expand upon concepts and to translate the local lingo. So, what you get is a diversion and something of an education, too. We can only hope the movie is a good as the book. w/c