China Rich Girlfriend
by Kevin Kwan
” If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to. “
— Dorothy Parker
Happy New Year, friends!
My first recommendation of the new year is the second installment in the Crazy-Rich-Asians series, China Rich Girlfriend. I chose the first book, Crazy Rich Asians, for a book club I’m in with a few of my closest friends. We loved the book so much that the two months after my pick were devoted to the sequels in this fun and wacky trilogy.
When last we saw Nick and Rachel, they were fleeing the harsh and gossip-filled decadence of Singapore and hopping a jet plane to rejoin their life back in New York, vowing faithfully (and albeit stubbornly, at least on Nick’s part) to put the Young family and all their drama behind them. Disappointed and embarrassed beyond belief with the reception Rachel received by his family, Nick has decided to firmly press the pause button when it comes to that part of his life, and focus on the beautiful woman in front of him. Despite her somewhat sketchy lineage, or rather in light of, Rachel has done nothing but bloom in Nick’s eyes under the sometimes cruel scrutiny of his mother, his aunties, and worst of all – his formidable grandmother. He was proud of the way she handled herself after being thrown into the lion’s den, and he cannot wait to make her his wife.
Rachel, for her part, has settled into life as Nick’s fiancée as gracefully as possible, especially considering the shock at realizing just how crazy rich the man in her life was. Having grown up in a meager but comfortable household, Rachel puts no real stock in wealth or possessions, but it is hard to deny that it’s immensely flattering to know Nick would give up an indeterminable amount of old and specially cultivated money for her. Since leaving Singapore and the ever watchful eyes of Nick’s family, Rachel’s focus has shifted as she has begun an official search for the true identity of her father and his whereabouts. She desperately wants to find the mysterious man before her wedding day, but endless amounts of nearly insurmountable obstacles keep popping up and she’s worried she’ll be walking down the aisle on her wedding day . . . alone.
Meanwhile, Nick’s mother Eleanor is downright beside herself. She has discovered some news about Rachel that could change everything – including the way her only son views his bride-to-be. Things between mother and son did not end on good terms, to say the least, and it is eating her up inside to know that he’s not only thrown everything away (Tyersall Park, anyone?) for this ABC (American-born Chinese, of course) economist (of all things!) but he’s also refused to invite her to their wedding or take any of her calls . . . never mind that he did in fact invite his father.
On the other side of the world, Nick’s insanely fashionable and profoundly private cousin Astrid is finding herself caught up in more than a few situations that she would care not to. Since her husband’s tech firm blew up literally overnight and he’s now a newly made billionaire, Astrid is beginning to find her home barely big enough to house herself, Michael, their son, and Michael’s ever-increasing ego. He’s become nearly unmanageable, flaunting his cash in all the wrong ways . . . and when he’s not hurling $100 bills at exotic dancers, he’s hurling scathing insults her way. Ever an optimist, Astrid is determined to stick it out, and lucky for her she has her old friend Charlie to depend on when the nights alone get too cold for comfort. Little does Astrid know, but Charlie has secrets of his own.
In Crazy Rich Asians we met Kitty Pong, and readers will distinctly remember the image of the ditzy soap opera star and her scandalous wardrobe isn’t one held in the highest regard. Since CRA, Kitty Pong has transitioned into “Mrs. Katherine Tai,” but reports are that her clothing choices are still just as tacky. Now equipped with more billions than she could ever spend in a lifetime (although, she may die trying), Kitty is absolutely determined to buy her way into high society and all their exclusivity. But with one shocking art conquest, a few lavish entrances, and a singular choice in jewelry (always more, More, MORE), the former actress has done the exact opposite of what she originally intended . . . and she’s stepped on so many toes that even her (mysteriously missing husband’s) money can’t get her out of the predicament she’s found herself in. But perhaps with the right help from the right person, she may have just the slightest sliver of hope . . .
Readers will also meet Carlton, a veritable bad-boy with a penchant for fast cars and even faster women and his sometime-girlfriend Colette, a social media maven with more than one score to settle.
In the spirit of Jackie Collins’ superstar infused novels like Rock Star and Lovers and Gamblers or Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest, Kevin Kwan has opened the heavy gilded doors to Asia’s rich and famous population once more, proving yet again that while new money shouts from the rooftops, true wealth merely whispers (and gossips well beneath their oolong tea-infused breath).
Giving China Rich Girlfriend 4.5 out of 5 stars, I wish I could give it that extra little bit. I missed Eleanor. I missed Nick’s relationship with his grandmother. I found the crazy-richness to be a *bit* too over the top (I know that sounds completely crazy, considering the fact that it’s a series that makes it’s biggest bang via showing off and coming away from CRA and it’s nutty nature) and a sadly, monotonous at times. Some of the references were just so obscure that they came off as uber pretentious instead of funny, like in the first book. The overall feeling was that Kevin Kwan was trying to outdo himself, whereas in CRA there was a real connection with each individual character and their personal story.
I really liked the wacky character of Kitty Pong, and wanted the author to delve just a bit deeper into her brain; help us figure out her true motivations on a more relatable scale and give her some depth. Most of us can relate to craving money, acceptance, prestige – but instead Kwan just seemed to drone over and over about how Kitty was determined to possess this or that thing. Some pages felt like they were nothing more than a google search on the most expensive that or the other. This book didn’t touch enough on the humanity that I loved so much in the first, and for that, I was left disappointed.
I still highly recommend this series, as I found it so hard to put down and had me giggling all the while. These people are truly ridiculous in the highest order, but you can’t help but love them and all of their crazy-rich-Asian-ness.