Crazy Rich Asians
by Kevin Kwan
A first-rate satire of first-class life, this fiction debut from renowned writer, photographer and visual consultant Kevin Kwan (I Was Cuba) manages to skewer the habits of both the discreetly and the conspicuously wealthy while posing serious questions about class divides and infusing the narrative with the trials and romanticism of young love. This hilarious send-up of the Asian jet set features good guys and gold-diggers, steely matriarchs and ruthless socialites, all with a heaping cup of opulence and a soupçon of Austenian sensibility.
Meeting your significant other's family for the first time is often a nerve-wracking experience, but for Rachel Chu, her potential in-laws are a surprise of jaw-dropping proportions. A down-to-earth ABC (American Born Chinese) career girl, Rachel has always imagined her boyfriend Nick's family to be average Singaporeans. When Nick invites her to join him for the summer in Singapore to attend his best friend's wedding, Rachel gets the shock of her life. As her friend Peik Lin says, "I have no idea who these people are. But I can tell you one thing--these people are richer than God." Nick comes from one of the wealthiest old money families on the island and, as his grandmother's favorite, he is heir apparent to the family fortune. Like any prince, Nick is expected to marry a girl of a certain class, and Rachel finds herself in a viper's nest of resentful young socialites and disdainful female relations. Nick's flamboyant cousin Oliver warns her that the aunties are ready to "pick you apart like a rotting carcass and serve you up as an amuse bouche." However, Rachel's greatest enemy is Nick's formidable and manipulative mother Eleanor, who is determined to stop wedding bells from ever ringing for the young couple--never mind that Nick hasn't even proposed.
Meanwhile, Nick's fashion-plate cousin Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore, has her own struggles with the class divide. Astrid loves her gorgeous middle-class husband, Michael, but she also loves the exhilaration of buying the latest designer fashions. An heiress with a hefty real estate portfolio who once famously jilted a rich fiancé, Astrid tries to hide her extravagant purchases from Michael, who feels emasculated that his wife can afford dresses worth more than their condo. When she discovers that Michael may be having an affair, Astrid is rocked back on her heels. Has she been fooling herself by believing she could find love with a man from another class?
Readers should come for the romance but stay for the distastefully extravagant stag and hen parties, the razor-sharp catty insults and untold extremes of class snobbery as Rachel's and Astrid's worlds spin out of control, leading to disastrous revelations that will change the way both women view themselves, their families and their relationships with the men they love.
American readers should take care when laughing at these crazy rich Asians. As Jonathan Swift said, "Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own." The dynamics between old money, the nouveau riche and the common classes have provided satirists fodder for centuries, and while it is easy to point fingers at habits on the other side of the globe, versions of the same class conflicts exist in every society. Astrid's marital difficulties are reminiscent of shifting gender roles in America as women begin to more commonly out-earn their male counterparts. Rachel's situation reflects the nightmare of everyone who "marries up"--that the spouse's family will never acknowledge their worth. Certainly the over-the-top displays of consumerist culture have a familiar ring to those of us who lived through Paris Hilton's heyday. Tempering these displays of excess with the genuine joys and struggles of young couples in love, Kwan has created a stylish and intricate piece of comedy with a tender heart and the habit-forming tendencies of a soap opera. --Jaclyn Fulwood