Crazy Rich Asians
By Kevin Kwan
Rachel Chu is a Stanford-educated economics professor at NYU who loves spending her weekends browsing shops along the cluttered New York sidewalks and grabbing a coffee with her pop-star-handsome boyfriend, Nicholas. They spend Friday nights in bed, laptops teetering in a sea full of blankets and books and half-eaten bagels. He’s her dream man, and when he asks her to spend the summer traveling around Asia with him, she immediately has visions of backpacks and well-worn paths full of deep conversations, street food and crowded hostels where they will share a bed amidst the stickiness of their sweaty skin.
But the trip Nicholas has planned for Rachel couldn’t be more different from what she’d imagined. When he mentioned that he’d book the flights, she hadn’t realized it would be the first of the first-classes, complete with chairs that recline into beds and entire suite of in-flight entertainment, not to mention a smartly dressed stewardess dedicated just to the two of them (and who greeted them with Rachel’s favorite specialty drink and promises of champagne daydreams and caviar nights). When Nicholas said street food, Rachel didn’t imagine that it would be quite so decadent, and shared with a billionaire’s son and an international model. And instead of a hostel with a bed-bug ridden bed, Rachel and Nicholas magically have reservations in one of the fanciest hotels she has ever seen, complete with round-the-clock room service and an on-site spa that is booked up months in advance. And speaking of booked up, there’s literally no hotel rooms available, due to the social season being in full swing.
Incidentally, the billionaire’s son that she shared food with is also getting married. Colin is Nicholas’s best friend, and he’s set to recite his vows to Araminta Lee in the single most anticipated social event of the year. His wedding has been the talk of the Asian world for months and getting a ticket to watch the show is of the highest demand and greatest importance. Everyone who is anyone will be there, from powerful businessmen and movers and shakers of the tech world, to supermodels, religious dignitaries, and even actual royalty. If you can’t garner a ticket to this wedding, you might as well slink off in the night in shame and pack a bag to move to America.
But Rachel doesn’t have to worry. She has a ticket. In fact, her boyfriend Nick is the groom’s best man, meaning she will have a front row seat to the nuptials of two people she has never met before (but who seem very nice and friendly). She hopes that the Vera Wang dress she scored off the clearance rack at Macy’s will suffice, because that’s the only nice thing she brought to wear. Economics professors don’t usually have occasion to wear anything fancy.
What Rachel doesn’t know is that Nick has been hiding something from her. Something big. In their home in the gritty and rushed New York City proper, they have managed to carve out a sweetly perfect little bubble for themselves. They have a routine and a mutual purpose, and their love beats to its very own synced pulse. He’s crazy about her and has been since the moment they met. But he’s been hesitant to tell her much about his family for a reason, and that reason is that they are their own brand of crazy. Crazy . . . and rich.
Nick’s family is so rich that most of Asian society has never even heard of them. His matriarch of a grandmother lives on an estate that would rival the most decadent of royal palaces, but she is so tucked and hidden away in the single most exclusive part of town that most people don’t even know she (or the house) exists. She rules with an iron fist from her golden refuge at Tyersall Park, complete with her lifelong handmaidens by her side (actual court-trained ladies-in-waiting, gifted to her by the King of Thailand) and a legendary stash of crown jewels hidden away in a vault. The relatives on the other side of the world from America’s New York have already heard about this ABC (American Born Chinese) girl that Nick is bringing home by way of cultural gossip-mongering, and it’s all the scandal.
Anxious to meet Nick’s parents and the rest of his family before the big hoopla of the wedding events begin, Rachel climbs into the back of her friend’s chauffeured BMW. When Peik Lin heard Rachel was finally on her side of the world, she was ecstatic. They hadn’t seen each other since their college days, when Peik Lin would drag Rachel into expensive boutiques over the weekend breaks and spoil her with extravagant dresses or outrageous shoes on a whim. But Peik Lin has an ulterior motive for offering to drive Rachel to Nick’s family home; she wants to scope out the scene and make sure it’s appropriate for one of her dearest friends. She’d never heard of the Youngs, and she knows everybody, so how honorable and appropriate could this family really even be? But when they pull up outside the grounds gates (gates that are manned by bonafide Gurkha soldiers, as used by the Sultan of Brunei for his own private protection), Peik Lin realizes one thing is for certain – these people have more money than God, Himself.
Rachel has certainly bitten off more than she can chew and the odds are stacking up against her as quickly as the women around her stack boxes of Manolo Blahniks in their 3,000 square-foot closets. She finds that she has few allies in the lion’s den, and all around her other intrigues and drama are happening quicker than it can be spread. Caught up in the glittering splendor of the crazy-rich-Asian lifestyle is . . .
Astrid Leong-Teo, Nick’s cousin and proverbial It-Girl around town. With a spare bedroom full of haute couture made specially for her by the most exclusive design houses in Paris, it appears to everyone else that the beautiful heiress has it all. Her paternal family is even richer than the Youngs, with their billions multiplying it to nearly trillions. But Astrid wants the one thing that money cannot buy – a faithful husband.
Eddie Cheng, another of Nick’s cousins. Although his family lineage is wrought with diamonds and gold, he lives a much humbler lifestyle than he would like. It’s his eternal shame to not have a jet as big as his best friend’s or a closet that tracks his every outfit with a state-of-the-art computer system. He yearns for his own prestige and respect and instead, pushes this false idea of perfection so hard onto his wife and children’s shoulders that things are beginning to crumble.
Alistair Cheng, Eddie’s brother and baby of the family, has decided that he is very much in love . . . with a soap star who favors obscenely short dresses.
Amanda “Mandy” Ling, the girl who once gave Nick his first kiss and is back for more, but only at the behest of her meddling mother who sees the Young fortune slipping from her grasp.
And Charlie Wu, Astrid’s former fiancé who may have more in mind that a fleeting friendship with the girl who got away.
All of the players will come together in the country where there is more money per square mile than in nearly any other place in the world, and when worlds collide, Rachel will get more than she bargained for from these crazy-rich-Asians.
I stumbled across this book when reading an article online that outlined the upcoming movie version. I’d been trolling Goodreads and blogs for a few days, trying to find a good slice of mindless junk-food-for-the-brain and Crazy Rich Asians sounded like the perfect fit. As the year has gone by and my reviews have become more popular, I’ve had my schedule built up so many months in advance that I’m struggling to find time to read books purely for pleasure. I love what I do — reading and reviewing — and I have had some fantastic books sent to me that I have just loved. But haven’t you ever just wanted to get back to the basics? Put work aside and do something just for fun? I snagged a copy of Crazy Rich Asians in my local Half Price Books and decided it would be my pick for my local book club during my hosting month, and boy was I glad I did it.
All of us in the book club loved the book, so much so that we chose the sequel (China Rich Girlfriend) as this month’s pick. We raced through it (one of us read it in one day) and found ourselves laughing and shaking our heads at the ridiculousness of it all. Poor Rachel, thrown into this ostentatious lifestyle that at times is so bizarre that you wonder if it could possibly be true. By way of interviews (both print and televised), I’ve found that indeed things can be as crazy as author Kevin Kwan puts it in the book, as a lot of the things portrayed actually happened to him in real life. As I am married into an Asian family myself, I can firmly attest to the way gossip seems to fly across the airwaves in record speed — everyone is in everyone’s business and virtually nothing is off limits, but it isn’t always a bad thing. Nothing about what the elders have to say in this culture (well, hardly anything . . . ) is meant to be malicious, it’s just the way of life. Old-school traditional parents mixing with their young and typically British or Americanized children makes for a difficult sort of connection. Kevin Kwan hits the mark again and again in this regard, showing the generational gap in all it’s mighty flaws (and hilarity).
I give Crazy Rich Asians a solid 5 out of 5 stars and I highly recommend it to anyone who needs help getting out of a reading slump or getting into a barrel of laughs. I guarantee you will fall in love with these richly (pun intended) drawn characters, and you’ll find yourself sympathizing on all sides of the coin. And when you get to the end and begin screaming that there is no closure, don’t forget there are not one, but two sequels: