Author: Kevin Kwan
# Pages: 403
Date Published: 2013
5-Star Rating: 3
Would you recommend it?: No
Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians is the tale of Rachel Chu and her boyfriend Nick Young. The happy pair put their life in Manhattan on hold for a summer trip to Singapore in order to attend Nick’s best friend’s wedding and to meet Nick’s family. What’s the hitch? Nick belongs to the incredibly, ridiculously wealthy Young family and is likely to be the primary heir to an even vaster fortune owned by his grandmother. In a deliciously sensational fashion, both these facts are entirely unbeknownst to Rachel. As one might predict, drama ensues as Rachel’s western ideas clash with the equally modern, yet surprisingly traditional, forces of Nick’s family. As Rachel comes to understand the reality of the situation, Nick’s mother, grandmother, former girlfriend and cousin close in on her, driving her away, intent on keeping her common ilk out of this privileged family’s bloodline.
One of the novel’s particular strengths is its attention to detail. Kwan’s descriptions are exquisite, wonderfully portraying the luxury of this ultra-rich class. These are people who snap up couture clothing and premium real estate like kids in a candy store. When Kwan writes, a purse is not just a purse. It is a piece of art hot off the runway, designed by Louis Vuitton, created by the most skilled Italian craftsman and made from hand tooled leather reaped from a particular breed of cow raised only on one island in the Falklands; these descriptions prove a sumptuous delight.
Another of the novel’s strengths is its knowledge of the culture it describes. Kwan artfully dots Crazy Rich Asians with Malay and Cantonese slang, conveniently explained at the bottom of each page, that breathes life into his characters. His command over the informal language makes one feel as if they are living in and among these urban elite. It adds a charming quality that makes the story unique from other tales of incredible wealth and focuses on the whimsicality of this tiny yet powerful island on the end of Malaysia.
Despite my praise, I believe there is much to be desired in Crazy Rich Asians. If one were content with just a good, mindless read, then I might bump my rating up to stars, but I confess to seeking more. Kwan is praised for using this novel to satirically criticize the new class of super rich in Asia. However, I found that he never went far enough. Sure, there are enough coy and sardonic remarks to see he means to poke fun. Yet when Kwan approaches relevant topics, such as wealthy inequality, he avoids them like one of his novel’s dainty socialites might skirt a puddle when wearing her Jimmy Choos. As an author, he had the opportunity to examine what effects this insane inequality can have, but chose to bow out.
I found that because of this lack of depth, the story never rises above its surface level girl-loves-rich-boy-and–his family-hates-her trope. The soap opera-esque drama made me roll my eyes and I soon grew tired of the one-dimensional characters. I finished the novel for a sense of closure, to see what would happen to this silly family. I reached the final page only to discover that Kwan intends to make it a trilogy, what I consider an ill advised move. What was tolerable and quaint in one book will be tedious and painful when diluted and stretched into three. Amazon disagrees with me, citing the book as one of their Amazon Editors’ Favorite Books of the Year, so I would advise readers to decide for themselves.
Review by Anne Donnelly, A&S '17