Review: Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians
Read with: a beach that's far far away from your credit cards
My best friend got this book for me for my birthday and said that maybe I'd want to be one of them someday. Apparently, she was right because I've basically been reading this book every chance I got since I started it on the flight back to Shanghai and finished it in 4 days. The pulsating anticipation and excitement as I write this review is laughable.
I didn't realise until about 5 minutes ago when I Googled the book that it's a pretty big deal. It's a bestseller and producers were fighting for the rights to make it into a film (which it will, but more on that later).
Let's just state the obvious - the cover is flamboyant. And you'd think that the plot could never live up to the outrageous flashiness of the cover - but you'd be wrong. The cover could have a burlesque woman popping out of it throwing glitter and waving scented peacock feathers in your face and it would still be fitting for the book. From page one, Crazy Rich Asians is a nonstop regergitation of exorbitant overindulgence, flashiness, and servants with heavily-accented english. As a matter of fact, the dialogue - as imagined in my mind - was all at a piercing decibel, as one can imagine all conversations among all middle aged Chinese women to be. The title is quite apt - it's about the most elite of the elite, the richest of the rich, and the most obscene of the obscene in the global Chinese circle. They have private jets, eat pretentious food, dress in couture, and practically bathe in money while looking down on just about everyone.
We have the heroine - Rachel - who is forced into this world because her boyfriend (Nick) brings her back to Singapore to visit his crazy rich family and friends. She's down to earth and a super smart overachiever, which makes her completely vulnerable, helpless, and naieve about their manipulative and shallow ways. They hate her, she doesn't fit in, secrets are exposed, and she must learn to come to terms with who she is. You know the story. The main characters are not really relatable: they're too perfect and their flaws are unconvincing. Especially Rachel and Nick. They talk like Barbie and Ken half the time and it's unfathomable that two such stale people can have supposedly 'hot sex'. And yet you press on because there's nothing stopping you from finding out what other over-the-top crap Kwan and cook up.
Nothing the plot is really surprising and the dialogue is sometimes cliched. Even the supposedly huge twist in the end was visible by page 50. But I'm actually not trashing the book because it was one of the engrossing and utterly ridiculous books I've read in a while. Not every book needs to have layers or make us think deeply about life. In this case, Kwan is unapologetically ridiculous about the materialism and disgusting wealth these people have and the weird shit they so and say.
I think it's definitely a better read for all the readers who have been exposed to Chinese culture. The cultural customs, locations, and characters feel very familiar. Kwan does capture some of the shared experiences quite well - where you feel like a relative has said something like that to you or you've personally experienced some of the discrimination (mostly towards 'Mainlanders' in this case) detailed in the book. In that way, this book is relevant, reflecting a lot of the contemporary changes and social dynamics that Asia is undergoing. Kwan is obviously trying to say something about wealth and the dark side of prestige but I don't think he doesn't quite gets there. Like I said, it's the sheer outlandish exaggeration of every element of the book that's main the catch.
Throughout the entire time I was reading the book, I kept thinking that it could make for a great movie. It would have been pretty efficient for Kwan to have just written a screenplay, actually. I came across a blogpost that dreamt up the cast for the film. It's completely dead on. Overall, a juicy, fun read.