Paperback, 544 pages
Published May 20th 2014 by Anchor
When Nafiza asked me to write a review on Crazy Rich Asians for her blog, I agreed but with trepidation. Why? Well, have you seen the way she writes? Exactly. Anyway, she asked, and here is my attempt.
However, before I begin, I have to say that when I first heard Crazy Rich Asians was published, my reaction was actually: Meh, pass.
If you can see from my perspective, I am Chinese, Taiwanese to be exact, and I live in a weird little suburbia town in Vancouver where there is an overwhelmingly large Asian population, and a healthy chunk of that population is usually draped in Chanel, Dior and Celine as their normal day wear, and some of them bust out their Hermes Birkin bags when they are feeling fancy. Sounds familiar? I thought so too.
The prospect of reading a 400+ page book on a world that is quite similar to what I see every day did not sound all that appealing to me; until I finally cracked open the book.
I was hooked by page 30.
Some people have said Crazy Rich is a must-read for Asian people, and I have to agree. This story feels uncannily familiar. Not so much like a real-life documentary, but it is a little caricature-ish. There are multiple characters established in the novel, each representing a different perspective to the story, or shall we say, a different player in the game of Who Is Nick Going to Marry? Rachel Chu and Nick Young are like the innocent and naive players in the game, though one of them learns the game a lot faster than the other. Astrid is Nick’s incredibly fashionable and understanding cousin who doesn’t seem to participate in this game. Eleanor is Nick’s mother, who is desperate and honestly, quite vicious in her attempts to make sure that Nick will marry someone who is befitting and advantageous to him and his family’s wealth and status. There are a lot of other characters in the story, each of their perspectives’ adding more background and color to this fantastical (but real) world of the Asian gazillionaires. From Kwan’s narration of the many relatives and friends of Nick’s extended family, it is clear that in the world of the riches, there are very precisely drawn lines between old money and new, and the ones who are truly rich and the ones who think they are and are pretending. Honestly, aside from reading about the deliciously fierce scheming, backstabbing and general paranoia and tension involved in the great marriage scheme, half of the fun of reading the book was to marvel at the sheer excess and opulence of the world of the wealthy Kwan has established in his novel (Suffice to say, all the extravagance I see daily doesn’t mean much in the world of the Crazy Rich. I doubt people here wear current season haute couture for a dinner party at grandma’s). Besides, Kwan narrates the story from multiple perspectives, and sometimes in a rather gossipy, soap-opera tone that fits perfectly in the novel, and gives the story almost a surreal fairy-tale quality.
Crazy Rich is definitely a fluffy book, with all the antics the different characters pull trying to get Nick to marry the girl they believe is right for him (with many of them thinking they are the perfect girl for Nick). The cattiness is hilarious to read and will probably feel quite familiar to Asian readers. However, it would be unfair to simply label this book as brain candy, for there are actually two parallel storylines in the novel, concerning Nick and Rachel and Astrid and her husband. And the two storylines progress so subtly through all the fluff that when they all come to a head in the end, they give a rather surprising twist to the story. The two storylines make the story a little more down-to-earth, and makes Crazy Rich seem less like a brain fluff book and more like a story with some gravitas.
I heartily recommend the book for all readers, especially readers interested in Asian culture, Asian soap operas, and fashion, especially vintage haute couture. (I swear, I will kill for Astrid’s wardrobe! And Grandmama’s jewellery collection. Vintage crown jewels!)
Also, on a side note: I recommend reading this book with the phone number for the best Malaysian/Singaporean restaurant in your local vicinity on hand. Singapore is like food porn heaven, and Kwan does not disappoint.