There’s rich, then there’s crazy rich. And then there’s China rich. As Eleanor Young explains to her son Nick, “Aiyah, these people aren’t just everyday rich with a few hundred million. They are China rich! We’re talking billions and billions.” And in this spectacular sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan takes us into an even more deliciously decadent, ostentatiously opulent world.
I absolutely adored Crazy Rich Asians, so when I saw that a few ARCs of the sequel were available at the Random House Canada Spring Blogger Preview, I immediately dove for a copy like Carrie Bradshaw at a Manolo Blahnik sample sale. I then pushed the rest of my reading pile off to the side and settled in for an escape into the glitzy glamour of the 0.0001%.
China Rich Girlfriend brings back a lot of the beloved characters from the previous book. Rachel Chu and Nick Young are all set to marry. Singapore’s It Girl Astrid Leong is slowly discovering that her husband’s recent financial success has gone to his head. Former soap opera star Kitty Pong is unable to climb to the upper echelons of Hong Kong society, despite her billionaire husband and efforts to fit in. We also meet new characters, billionaire bad boy Carlton Bao, his girlfriend celebrity fashion blogger Colette Bing, and the catalyst that sets this novel’s plot in motion: Rachel Chu’s birth father.
China Rich Girlfriend has a more soap operatic feel than Crazy Rich Asians. While the first book focused on Rachel’s relationship with Nick and her introduction to his world, their story almost takes a back seat in this sequel. Instead we get drawn into an almost dizzying array of subplots, and I strongly suggest reading/re-reading Crazy Rich Asians before this book. Getting acquainted/re-acquainted with the large cast of characters felt confusing at first, but once you’re settled in, it’s an exhilarating ride.
My favourite plot thread by far is that of Astrid and her friendship with Charlie Wu, who I see from my review of Crazy Rich Asians also stole the show for me in that book. He still holds a torch for her, yet manages to maintain a respectful distance and provide emotional support while she struggles with her husband’s personality shift. The affection between them is beautiful, and after some particularly jerky behaviour by Astrid’s husband, I was on Team Charlie all the way.
As with Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend skewers the materialism of the super upper class. The sequel has a bit less affection and therefore a bit less bite than the original, but is just as much a pleasure to read. A Paris shopping spree scene made me yearn so badly for a shopping trip myself, and only -40 degree weather (I’m writing this on a February day in Toronto) saved me and my credit card from doing anything we regret. This scene of course was closely followed by a luxurious spa scene, which again made me long for all the treatments the characters describe. Despite his satirical treatment of the characters’ behaviour, Kevin Kwan does for high end shopping what Devil Wears Prada does for fashion, and it’s hard to read all those brand names and celebrity mentions without wishing you could experience such a lifestyle, even for just a day. Reading Kwan’s fiction allows us to live vicariously through these characters, lampooning their excess while imagining ourselves in their Louboutin heels (presented personally by their dear friend Christian, of course). That being said, the truth behind a much lauded white linen dress gives hope to us all and makes for one of the funniest moments in the book.
The food is just as gloriously described here as in the first book, and I’m not ashamed to say I ordered Chinese takeout for dinner after finishing the book. Sweet and sour pork may not quite compare to the delicacies described in these pages, but again, a fantastic scene featuring ramen in Paris shows us that at times, the rich really aren’t so different from you and me.
I’m so glad Kwan decided to write a sequel to Crazy Rich Asians. This is such a fantastic world to visit, and his writing is just hilarious. Reading it feels like watching a particularly glittery soap opera, where the jewels are ten times as large and the outfits a thousand times more expensive. Look beyond the glitz and glamour though, and at its heart, this novel is about love and family. How does a young woman deal with finding her birth father? How does a sudden increase in income change a man? And how can a privileged young man deal with having caused a terrible tragedy? Kwan refrains from delving too deep into the sad aspects of the plot, but they add some measure of reality to the story, and remind us of the human beings behind the dollar signs.
Thank you to Random House Canada for an advanced reading copy of this in exchange for an honest review.