I thought I knew what to expect at a book launch event. Cupcakes, juice, a brief reading by an author, and pretty much everyone dressed to chill. I suppose I should have known better with the launch being held in the Shangri-La Hotel Toronto. As any self-respecting Asian knows, the Shangri-La is swanky. When I lived in the Philippines, my family would sometimes go to a Shangri-La Hotel lobby to drink coffee or eat ice cream or perhaps take a photo in front of the large, glittery Christmas tree. It’s been a while since I’d had an excuse to visit a Shangri-La, and when I arrived a few minutes early for this launch and was formally invited to sit at a cocktail table in the lobby, I realized I had horribly underestimated the event.
I had a day off from work that day, so I’d taken the opportunity to wear a comfy denim skirt and sneakers. Probably a fashion don’t most of the time, and certainly not what one wants to be wearing when entering a room of cocktail dresses, three piece suits and sky high stilettos. I was Anne Hathaway in Devil Wears Prada, and worse yet, I’d happily lugged along my hefty hardcover for the author to sign – only to be informed that we will be receiving goody bags with signed copies. Wanting a personalized signed copy, I brashly approached him later on anyway, my bumbling forward reminiscent of Anne Hathaway’s lurching through the city of New York. There was even a woman, who I now wish I’d asked the name of, with a Miranda Priestley bob of silver hair, but in a geometric, asymmetrical cut that just caught my eye from across the room. A blogger friend kindly suggested I wasn’t underdressed, but rather flaunting a hipster-ish disregard for fashion trends. Indeed. Hair flip to that, friend.
Author Kevin Kwan was himself dapper in a solid gold suit, evocative of the gorgeous, glittery cover of his book. It’s one of my favourite book covers ever, and no internet photo can hope to do it justice. And it embodies perfectly the glitzy, glittery world of Crazy Rich Asians.
I absolutely adore this book. The title itself is hilarious, and sent me on a Facebook tagging rampage whilst singing “You’re so vain, I bet you think this book is about you, don’t you?” An aunt later protested my tagging her (along with my entire family, to be honest), seeing as we were Asian, but certainly neither crazy nor rich. I assured her she was absolutely right, and immediately nixed my plan to give away copies of this book for Christmas.
Crazy Rich Asians lampoons a world I, having grown up in Asia, am very much familiar with, though have never been a part of. The snootiness towards the nouveau riche (easily identifiable by the gauche abundance of brand name logos), the importance of family connections (character Rachel Chu keeps being asked if she’s one of “the” Chu’s), the back room gossip that cements one’s status as being part of the inner circle… Kwan gleefully delves into this world and pulls the reader along with him. Kwan makes fun of this world, but with such genuine affection for it that the book resists caricature, and the characters practically leap off the page in living colour.
The story focuses on Rachel Chu, an American born Chinese (ABC) who visits Singapore and meets her boyfriend’s family. She then finds out that Nicholas Young isn’t just a simple professor, but rather the heir to one of the largest family empires in Singapore, and therefore also one of Singapore’s most eligible bachelors. This is a world completely alien to her, and she fits in about as well as I did in my hipster gear at the launch. Despite her efforts to fit in, jealous ex-girlfriends and scheming relatives keep her off-kilter, and a surprising revelation about her own family’s background adds a rather soap opera-like twist that nevertheless remains deeply felt.
I absolutely love their love story, and admit I developed a bit of a crush on Nick myself. Despite his upbringing, he seems really down to earth, and also genuinely cares about Rachel. I only wish they had been more open with each other from the beginning – they could have avoided so much grief if they had.
Equally riveting is the subplot involving Charlie Wu, who has long harboured a flame for Nick’s cousin and society It girl Astrid. In the words of a friend who also read the book: “Charlie Wu stole the show!” He’s certainly a heroic figure, a dashing billionaire who has not only overcome adversity to get to where he is, but who continues to have a tortured personal life, all because of a stupid series of mistakes from the past. In a way, his story is even more dramatic that Nick and Rachel’s, and if Kwan were ever to write a sequel, I humbly suggest giving Charlie and Astrid their own book.
As if all the man candy and glittery gossip weren’t enough, the book also reads like a foodie tour of Asia. Kwan describes meals in mouthwatering detail, and when I wasn’t laughing my head off, I was craving Asian cuisine.
Glorious, glittery and gleeful, Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians is an absolute indulgence of a book. It’s excess upon excess to absurd proportions, yet always grounded in lovingly detailed characters that somehow manage to remain all too human. And it’s in Kwan’s unmistakeable affection for the world he lampoons that the story finds its mark, and more importantly, leaves its mark on the reader.
Thank you to Random House of Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.