Saturday, June 22, 2013

Book Review: "Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan

This may be one of the most perfect summertime books I've read in quite some time. Fun, funny, gossipy, outrageous...all of these words could be used to describe Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians, a romp through the lives of several colossally rich Chinese families living in Singapore.

When Rachel Chu, an ABC (American-born Chinese) working as a college professor in New York, is asked by her professor boyfriend, Nick Young, to spend the summer with him at his family's home in Singapore and attend his best friend's wedding, she has no idea what she's in for. You see, Nick never mentioned that he's the heir to one of the largest fortunes in Asia, or that his best friend Colin, heir to a massive fortune, is marrying supermodel and hotel heiress Araminta Lee in what promises to be the storybook wedding of the year in Singapore. And neither is really prepared for the firestorm that Nick's bringing Rachel to Singapore will touch off, among women of all ages, since Nick is the most eligible bachelor in the entire country.

Meanwhile, Nick's cousin, Astrid, the ultimate high-fashion-wearing "It Girl," is having relationship troubles of her own while she's always in search of the perfect outfit or jewelry, and their cousin, Eddie, is bound and determined to have his family recognized by the society magazines as the models of fashion and style, despite the fact that he often demonstrates neither.

This is a story about the foibles of a society battling between the privileges of lineage and inheritance, and the need of the "new rich" to prove themselves. It's about respecting your family and history, and deciding whether you should continue following the path you've been expected to travel your entire life, or whether it's time to follow your own dreams and pursue your own ideas of happiness. And some people will stop at nothing to preserve what they believe is the "right way" of life, even if it means hurting the ones they love. All in the pursuit and protection of money...

I thought this was a terrific, campy, soap opera-ish type of book, full of Chinese and Singaporean history and culture, and some of the most outrageous behaviors I've ever read about. (Author Kevin Kwan has said he even toned it down a bit from real life, because his editors didn't think it would be ultimately believable.) Yet as crazy as the book gets, at its heart, the main characters are complex, sympathetic, and really enjoyable, and you find yourself drawn into their stories and invested in what happens to them.

If you like to see how the other half lives—perhaps in ways you can never imagine—you'll really enjoy this book, because it's well written and fascinating on top of everything else. But here's a warning: don't read this on an empty stomach, because Kwan's descriptions of various foods and meals will make your stomach growl—between reading this on a plane and on the Metro, I was starving!

This was great fun, and I look forward to seeing what Kwan comes up with next.

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