In the spring, I finally got my hands on Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling book about Singaporean and Chinese millionaires and billionaires. It was a true revelation, as clearly evidenced by its wide-spread success, and the book is getting a film adaptation in 2018. I loved the book, it was charming and funny and gut-wrenching, with twists and turns and biting wit that kept me reading until I had consumed the book whole. Seriously, if you have yet to read it, you must. It is mandatory.
One of the most interesting part of the book for me was the cultural immersion the reader experiences. Phrases in various east Asian dialects are interspersed naturally in the dialogue, cultural norms are clarified, and food gets the special treatment of elegant, sumptuous description that would make even the most picky eater salivate. This complete immersion into the culture of the protagonists would probably require a lot of googling, but the author has wonderful footnotes that explain phrases, events and honorifics that the average reader (such as myself) might find confusing. The author has a freshly knowledgeable voice, and delves into an intense social structure with gusto. I have a detailed and farcical culture of my own, which I barely understand, and diving into this book was a breath of fresh air, to be honest. It is a book in which one can completely submerge oneself.
I read the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, which, to my great delight, did not jump the shark. A lot of sequels fail to live up to expectations, but this one was a standout. Kitty Pong, a morally dubious side character from the first book, is made actually sympathetic in the second, and lots of other new characters are introduced without awkwardness. Focusing this book’s main trajectory on Rachel’s family was the right call, as opposed to continuing on with Nick’s family drama, which remains important but periphery. Nick is much more likable too, his honesty with Rachel and their working as a team in this book is satisfying for those of us who were cheering for them. The dissolution of Astrid’s marriage was expected, while money does a lot in this world, it can’t fix everything. Plus, we love Charlie with Astrid. His unselfish love for her is what she deserves, especially when sudden success makes Michael into someone Astrid can’t abide. There is excellent foreshadowing regarding Colette Bing’s true temperament when we see the way she interacts with her family and her servants. The book ends in Nick and Rachel’s families accepting them (with the exception of Nick’s grandmother, who I think we’ll be seeing more of in the next book) giving them both an excellent foundation for marriage, based on strong support from their families, who have accepted the match, and in Rachel’s case, her presence in their family.
There is a movie coming out next year, of which I have high expectations. It is frustrating that there are so few actors and actresses who are Asian who have had the opportunity to be successful, but I anticipate that the success of this movie will make way for more media focused on Asia and Asian-Americans, a severely underrepresented group. In the mean time, I eagerly look forward to getting my hands on the third book, which will only make me hungrier for more.