Thursday, 16 August 2018

Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan




Book: Crazy Rich Asians

Author: Kevin Kwan 

Pages: 546

Read on: Kindle  

Read in: 5-6 hours 

Plot Summary: When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. 

But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country's most eligible bachelor. 

On Nick's arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.


Review:

The Crazy Rich Asians movie released in the US last weekend. Even before its release, the movie generated a lot of buzz for being the first all-Asian cast in a movie since The Joy Luck Club. 

So, even though I had heard of this trilogy for a while, I, finally, bit the bullet and ordered the first of the series to read and see what the fuss was all about! 

So, anyway, at 546 pages, the book is a long-long-long one with pages and pages dedicated to brands of couture, jewellery, luxury cars, yachts and private planes. We get it- the book is about crazy rich Asians! But did it have to have pages and pages about who wore what and vivid descriptions of high-end designer dresses, homes, cutlery and so on! It got tedious after a while! Also, somewhere in an attempt to establish just how rich everyone is, the author lost sight of developing his vast array of characters and giving them a little more soul! 

I liked and related to Rachel Chu- she is our lens into the crazy world of some of Singapore's richest people. Rachel has a PhD and teaches Economics at NYU but none of these qualifications matter to Singapore's swish set, who see her as nothing but an ABC (American-born Chinese) gold digger. 

I also liked Astrid, Nick's first cousin, who is the 'it' girl of the swish set and she is rather unfazed by how everyone sees her and watches her every move. I enjoyed Astrid's track in the book a lot more than I did Nick and Rachel's because her marriage and the situation that she found herself in is much more realistic, complicated and relatable. 

Also, since Nick has not told Rachel anything about his richer-than-God family or how he is one of the most eligible bachelors in Singapore, she, basically, reaches Singapore completely unprepared in every which way. Now this is completely shitty! 

I found Nick to be super annoying and selfish. Like a typical entitled rich boy, he didn't bother to fully disclose his situation and the social and familial pressure that surrounds him when it comes to choosing a life partner. Nick blithely breezes through life being moronically unaware of his mother and grandmother's aspirations when it comes to his wedding. It takes his best friend- Colin- and Astrid to open Nick's eyes to the potential issues that Rachel must be dealing with due to him not preparing her. 

Nick rationalises to himself that since his plush lifestyle was his "normal", there was no special need to prepare Rachel for anything, but, of course, he is wrong! Rachel has no clue what to expect from Nick's family and his snobbish mom, who has already written her off! 

Another thing that I found annoying is that so much of Rachel's first week is spent by her being vaguely told by the people around Nick about how rich he is and what a catch he is, but never directly. All of this is inspite of Nick's family's businesses and wealth being very secretive, so much so that one of Rachel's friend's from college, whose father is a wealthy property tycoon in Singapore has never heard of the 'Young' family. 

Now, I can imagine that there are several discreet wealthy people all over the world, but this family is supposed to be super-duper rich with its fingers in multiple pies and so, no one outside of a very select, small circle of people knowing about them and their wealth just sounds ridiculous! 

The book does have its moments, but overall, I found it quite tedious and annoying. There is no sense of culture shock that Rachel faces, she is just mostly awed by how much money everyone has because that's what the writer focuses on- big house, big garden, extravagant meals, expensive clothes, jewellery, shoes, homes and so on! Like I said, this is a long, tedious book! 

Maybe I hated it so much because I am not a fan of rabid name dropping, even if it is of designers and pretty things. We get it that these people are super-rich. Can we move on to some real drama?! 

I'd rather the author focused more on building up some of the characters with deeper motivations, insecurities, drivers etc. instead of casting them as rabid caricatures and stereotypes of rich, vicious aunties and social climbers. 

This is a book meant for Americans or, basically, Westerners. To educate them that Asia has its fair share of richer-than-King Solomon kind of families too. It is almost like a look-at-us-we-are-not-about-starving-children any more! So, perhaps that's why the book was such a success in the US market? It was, perhaps, super surprising to the Americans that Singapore and China have such rich people that they can buy out all of Chanel in an hour of casual shopping! 

But to me, a girl born and raised in South-East Asia, this is no new news! Of course, every Asian country has its own share of super rich people! Also, we don't have anything to prove to the "first world". There are various kinds of wealth (cultural, material etc.) and Asia (all of it) has had no shortage of it for more than 6000 years! 

Perhaps the author's heart is in the right place, but, this book with its nauseating display of wealth really rubbed me the wrong way. *shrugs* 

I hope, just this once, that the movie is better than the book! 

Rating: 2.5/5

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