Published by Doubleday
Publication date: June 11th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Cultural, Debut, Fiction, Humor
“I don’t think she cares how fat her ankles get. Do you know how much she inherited when her father died? I heard she and her five brothers got seven hundred million each.”
When a novel begins with a woman and her children being turned away from a fancy hotel and she’s so upset her husband buys the hotel that same night, you can count me in. Kevin Kwan doesn’t miss a stitch of Frette linen in this tightly woven hilarious satire about the new squillionaires in his debut novel, Crazy Rich Asians. The story centers on Nick Young, a professor in New York City and his return home to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. He brings his American-born-Chinese (ABC) girlfriend, Rachel with him, to introduce her to the family. Little does he know that members of his extended family have already been alerted to Rachel’s existence via a cousin who’s known as Radio One Asia. There are no secrets in this family and the insane amount of wealth keeps the younger generation toeing the line. Nick is unusual in that he has stayed in the United States but it is believed he will obey his family’s wishes and settle down in Asia with a proper Chinese wife. Rachel does not fit into these plans, especially for Nick’s mother Eleanor, a fearsome matriarch.
To Eleanor, every single person occupied a specific space the elaborately constructed social universe in her mind. Like most of the women in her crowd, Eleanor could meet another Asian anywhere in the world and within thirty seconds of learning their name and where they lived, she would implement her social algorithm and calculate precisely where they stood in her constellation based on who their family was, who else they were related to, what their approximate net worth might be, how the fortune was derived, and what family scandals might have occurred within the last fifty years.
Before her son has even arrived she has enlisted help from around the globe to ensure that this female interloper does not win her son. Nick is naïve in his belief at what his family will do to manage his life but his cynical cousin Oliver has no illusions and shares his concerns with Rachel at a party being thrown to celebrate the once-a-decade blossoming of some rare flowers owned by their grandmother.
“They mean to pick you apart like a rotting carcass and serve you up as an amuse-bouche the next time they’re invited to the Home Counties.”
In Crazy Rich Asians the women’s words are as cutting as their fashions but they are not alone in their pretensions. Every whim or desire must be fulfilled—immediately. For Nick’s cousin Eddie, it is that his wife and three young children are always perfected clothed. When his six-year-old son accidentally spills orange soda on his father’s custom made tuxedo, Eddie reacts violently, chasing and screaming at the boy, even though he has two other tuxedoes he could wear.
“Harmless? Fucky fuck, he’s ruined everything! The monochromatic fashion statement I was planning for the whole family is RUINED because of him!”
Kwan is diligent in designing this rarified world where the lack of concern over money is matched only by the utter indifference to anyone not their kind. There is no detail too small for his sharp eyes. Nick’s grandmother wears dresses woven of lotus flower fabric and lives on a 50 acre estate in the middle of Singapore so exclusive that’s it’s not visible on any maps (or Google Earth) and his cousin Astrid wears VBH earrings worth almost half a million dollars. The pretension for clothes, jewels, real estate, and cars is matched only by their obsession with food. Arguing about it and knowing the best place to get laksa or oh luak is a blood sport made even more engrossing by Kwan’s descriptions. You’ll be laughing while your stomach growls.
Even though everyone in Crazy Rich Asians lives in custom Swarovski castles, they don’t hesitate to throw stones at each other and at anyone they think might be trying to enter their domain. The novel takes place in a fictional world that is modeled on the real one, where mainland Chinese are now discovering wealth and spending obscenely, much to the consternation of those who have had massive wealth for generations. It’s not a history lesson though, just a hilarious, compulsively readable novel. After devouring the last page, the only question is—how long before we can buy the sequel?