Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan – Review

“When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace and two, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor. Soon, Rachel’s relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers…”Crazy Rich Asians’ synopsis

 

To anyone who asks me about this book, the first thing I usually say about Crazy Rich Asians is that it’s a fun, lightweight even colourful book to read. Its narrative is centered on Rachel Chu, a university professor who decides to go to Singapore to spend the summer with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, and finally meet his family. From a very superficial point of view, that I blame a little the synopsis on the book itself, this is just another story about the girl who discovers her boyfriend is rich and gets stuck inside the drama that entangles because the family refuses to accept her. While it is one of the first things you’ll be offered with by the beginning of the book, it is just a door that will lead you to a much bigger ball. Crazy Rich Asians talks about wealth, billionaire people, expensive shoes, jewels and cars, however it all rotates around the main subject: the ups and downs of being a family and what it takes for you to keep it together.

 

“I withdrew from university when we got married. I chose to help my husband run a business and to raise a family […] It’s nice you appreciate this house and us being here together wrapping dumplings. But all this doesn’t just happen. It’s because we know to put family first, instead of chasing one’s passion.” Eleanor Young

 

Coming from an Asian background I was able to identify a whole bunch of similarities (some of which makes me proud, while others honestly don’t) which goes from social expectations, specific beauty standards, family above all, gatherings around food, prejudice and generation conflicts. To those who will say most of these are universal topics, which I totally agree, I would still suggest that you read it in order to see the different nuances of what they mean inside a culture rarely depicted by mass media and Hollywood movies.

I simply love how Crazy Rich Asians gets so clear on how things such as being rich, successful or just “being enough” are frail standards that float not only on a personal level but also depending on your background and the people you are surrounded by. Rachel Chu can be considered a marvelous example of the American Dream: thanks to her immigrant single mom who raised her in a foreign country while working on several small restaurants, she gets to go to college and now teaches Economics in NYU. Still, her success and value as a professional and individual are insignificant to most of the generational millionaires and billionaires she encounters.

 

“There’s rich, there’s filthy rich, and there is crazy rich…” People

 

What to expect:
Lots of cultural and historic information
Beautifully described scenarios, architecture, jewellery, clothes, pieces of art
Food, just so much food
Also, crazy shopping
Characters that you may have crossed paths with before (maybe except from the numbers on their banking account)

What not to expect:
The whole Gossip Girl drama
Very complex characters and plot
Lots of romance
A diverse representation of Singapore’s population (there is a reason for the novel’s name to be Crazy Rich Asians)

 

Its author, Kevin Kwan, comes from one of these rich Chinese Singaporean families and stated that he was inspired to write the book in order to capture the memories of his childhood while him and his father (who was battling against cancer at the time) reminisced of their lives in the island. It means the portrayal of the characters’ lifestyle with their private clubs and jets, antique collections and theatrical bidding, as outraged as it may seem, can be considered accurate enough coming from someone who did witness this type of life.

I would describe it as a ticket right to the center of Singapore’s richest and most exclusive places without the exorbitant price and within the comfort of your own house, the perfect book to snatch when you want to be mesmerized by its depictions and have a good laugh. Crazy Rich Asians is like a family album, a fashion magazine and a travel guide, without any images per se.

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