In need of a hilarious, ridiculous novel that will make your family seems tame by comparison? Crazy rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is a ruckus good-time that gives readers a peek inside the uber-rich Chinese families in Singapore, their drama, and lavish lifestyles that they take for granted.
While the book contains many characters, the main two are Nick Young and Rachel Chu. They met and have been dating for quite a while in New York City but are both Chinese who moved to the US. Rachel’s mom moved with her when she was just a child, so all she knows is life in the US. Nick, on the other hand, grew up in Singapore and has only recently lived in NYC. Nick decides to take Rachel home for the summer to Singapore, where they will first attend his best friend’s wedding and then enjoy Asia for the remainder of the trip. But, the best laid plans are never that simple. The whole novel revolves around the wedding and Nick’s large family, with Rachel unwittingly caught in the crosshairs of both.
Kwan deftly portrays family dynamics of all sort throughout the novel, adding even more intrigue to the main plot. Rachel, similar to the reader, has not be warned or prepped in anyway before meeting his family since Nick doesn’t see it as a big deal, although him cousin Astrid warned him that he should. Much of Nick’s family is concerned with lineage and wealthy, to varying degrees, and Rachel unfortunately has neither since she was raised by a single mom without knowing any other family. She and Nick are blindsided by particular members in his family when they realize the expectations. Power and control, especially of information, are also used freely to influence and coerce as family members and friends deem necessary to achieve their goals and personal gain. Everyone in Singapore seems to want to climb the social ladder and bask in societal attention except for Nick and Rachel.
This novel also showcases different versions of wealth and opinions of it, which adds more friction between some of the characters. Some downplay their wealth, spending very little of it and never discussing it, while others flaunt it with gaudy purchases and extravagances, flashing it any chance they can. Due to these disparities in opinion, Nick doesn’t realize just how personally wealthy he is, and stands to inherit, since he lived with his low-key grandmother and was other family members who flaunted their riches. This is partly also why he didn’t explain anything to Rachel because while he was rich, he never thought of himself or his immediate family as uber-rich. Among the multitude of characters, there are many subtle differences between them that highlight the variation in the rich and their opinions of themselves and others. I can’t begin to do it justice in this post but it’s a pleasure to read.
Crazy rich Asians is very funny and a fun read. From what little I have seen (my sister’s the real expert), The Real Housewives of… tv series is similar to this novel as it follows a group of rich women and documents their lavish lifestyles and heightened drama. Except that this novel takes everything to the max, can be incredibly over-the-top and ridiculous, putting even The Real Housewives to shame. It is mind-boggling how easily so many characters spend so much money like it is mundane. To not be uber-rich myself (unless there’s a massive windfall hiding out there for me), it can be absurd to the point of sheer amusement to even just have a glimpse of that reality. Again, Kwan showcases a range of elegant to tacky rich Asians throughout, so it’s not all cringe-worthy flaunting of wealth but it’s all compelling in the novel and propels the plot well.
Part of why I enjoyed the novel so much likely is the fact that I visited Singapore for a long weekend a few years ago. The descriptions of the locations, stores, and especially the food take me right back there. Now I’m craving Singaporean food from hawker stalls and thinking about another trip there sooner than later, and while we still have friends to visit, too!
Recommended?: Yes, especially if you want to be transported to hot, flavorful Singapore to briefly live alongside the crazy-rich Asians, and be thankful that they aren’t your family members. It’s certainly an adult novel, with some swear words and sexual references but no real sex scenes; mostly the family dynamics, manipulation, and commentary on money and marriage might not be as interesting or appreciated by younger, teen readers. I’m so glad it’s a trilogy and can’t wait to read the next–hopefully they live up to this first one!