Crazy Rich Asians


  • Books
  • Saturday, 27 Jul 2013

Author : Kevin Kwan

Genre : Fiction

Publisher : Doubleday

Take a peek into the lives of power, extreme indulgence and unabashed displays of wealth.

KEVIN Kwan is right in quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald in his article for The Daily Beast, where I first heard of his novel, Crazy Rich Asians: “The rich are different from you and me.”

It’s unfathomable and unimaginable for regular folks like us – and Rachel Chu, one of the protagonists inCrazy Rich Asians – the world that the obscenely wealthy live in, as described in Kwan’s first novel. Reading about them becomes a vicarious treat, as we sneak peeks into these lives of power, extreme indulgence and unabashed displays of wealth that would make Donald Trump seem like a pauper. (Craving an authentic Aussie flat white coffee? Hop on a chartered plane to Oz, why not?)

And Kwan makes it all even more delicious with lots of intrigue, gossip and power plays, like a soap opera but with way better clothes, plusher settings and British accents. An Asian Downton Abbey in print, if you will.

The currently New York-based author himself grew up in this world until he was 12, in Singapore. It’s a setting with which he is intimately familiar, and it’s safe to conclude the stories and characters in his novel are a composite both of his imagination and actual events and people.

Rachel, described as an “ABC (America-born Chinese), accompanies boyfriend Nick Young to Singapore to attend the wedding of his best friend from childhood. What Nick doesn’t tell Rachel is that the nuptials between Colin Khoo and Araminta Lee will be Asia’s “wedding of the year”, complete with global press coverage – Colin and Araminta belong to two of the region’s wealthiest families, and Araminta is an Asian supermodel of sorts.

Worse, Nick fails to tell his girlfriend of nearly two years that he belongs in this world of extraordinary privilege. That while he lived modestly like a regular New York academician – he and Rachel both teach at New York University – dashing, Oxford-educated Nicholas Young was actually born to old wealth, in a clan that’s very hush-hush about its affluence. (Though it’s a little difficult to believe that Rachel doesn’t know of his lineage in this era of Google.) And worst of all, that Nick’s an only child, the last Young of his generation, and the favourite of the family matriarch, his reclusive and aristocratic paternal grandmother, Shang Su Yi. All this, of course, means that expectations of him and the woman he’ll eventually marry are exponentially much higher than Rachel could have imagined.

Which also means that Rachel, who was raised by a struggling single mother, is in for a lot of competition. Even before she and Nick board their Singapore Airlines first-class cabin, several sets of well-manicured claws are already waiting to pounce on Rachel, not least those belonging to Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young.

The novel also tackles the drama surrounding the marriage of Astrid Leong and Michael Teo. Astrid is Nick’s elegant cousin, the envy of Singapore socialites for her exquisite taste and beauty. (When they were kids, Astrid’s father famously bought a London hotel via a telephone call because the snooty hotel manager had looked down on his wife.) Michael, however, comes from more modest provenance; he’s struggling to set up his own business and finding it hard to keep up with his in-laws’ lifestyle.

Kwan shows that to the rich, it also matters what kind of rich you are: Those who come from many, many generations of wealth look down on new money. It’s a world steeped in tradition; Nick is born to it and yet it clashes with his modern and Western ways. He was, after all, schooled in Britain, and consequently ambivalent about the traditions of aristocratic Asian families like his.

And then there’s Annabel Lee, Araminta’s mother. Annabel is quietly rejoicing at the match with Colin. This is the culmination of all her hard work: moving their new billions to Singapore from mainland China, sending her beautiful daughter to the right schools. Now she has finally been invited into this conservative and very restricted circle, into which entry isn’t guaranteed simply by wealth. Annabel orchestrates the most lavish wedding for her daughter: Valentino couture on Araminta, the Vienna Boys Choir in the church ceremony, Cirque du Soleil at the reception....

Observing all this is Rachel, as she struggles to wrap her head around this other life of Nick’s. Now she’s branded a gold-digger, and the petty manoeuvring of the women in Nick’s life are out to turn her Asian holiday into a nightmare. Kwan also made sure to throw in a crazy-rich Asian fairy godmother in Peik Lin Goh, Rachel’s black-Amex-card-toting classmate-friend from Stanford, who dresses her ABC friend in head-to-toe couture so she won’t appear out of place in Nick’s world.

Kwan, in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, said he had to take out portions of his book on the advice of his editor, even though the incidents he described actually happened, because “it’s going to seem so unreal that people would spend this much money, or do something this excessive”.

Crazy Rich Asians is a guilt-free joyride into a life of custom-built private jets, palatial homes, wardrobes of next-season couture, and bank accounts on steroids. The rich are different from you and me, yes. And how, indeed! – Philippine Daily Inquirer/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services


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