Published by Doubleday
Publication date: May 23rd 2017
If you’re stopping by for the first time, here’s some critical information before I get into my review of Rich People Problems: I’m a die-hard Kevin Kwan fan. I tore through his debut novel, Crazy Rich Asians like it was a Chanel sample sale and I had an AmEx Centurion card. It was love from first page. Book two in the series, China Rich Girlfriend, continued the wealth-beyond-belief craziness and now the final book in the series is here. I am not ashamed to admit that I begged the people at Doubleday for an advance copy—and it was worth whatever dignity I lost. (Who am I kidding? I have no dignity when it comes to these books.)
Rich People Problems reunites all of the characters from the previous two novels because the families’ matriarch Su Yi is dying. She lives in an almost mythical home hidden in the midst of Singapore, where the land alone is worth billions of dollars. Leading the fight to gain this home after her death is the foppish and devious Eddie Cheng, who has suddenly been hit with a seismic attack of love for his elderly grandmother. The dark horse in the race is Nick Young, the lead protagonist in Crazy Rich Asians. He’s the man who married his poor, inconsequential ABC (American born Chinese) girlfriend and was disowned by Su Yi. Now Eddie is determined the two don’t reconcile.
This is just one story being played out in Rich People Problems. Astrid is still in the midst of her acrimonious divorce and still in love with tech billionaire, Charlie Wu. Kitty Bing (nee Pong) is trying to spend her husband’s wealth in search of acceptance from the Asian elite, none of whom have forgotten that she was a porn star. Just as she’s starting to make headway she’s upstaged by her step-daughter, Colette Bing, who has moved from disgrace to marrying a British lord.
Plot, in the form of outrageous behavior and scandal, is only one of the reasons to read Kwan’s novels. The main reason, is how he turns satire into high art through his devilishly sublime details. Where else will you read about people with so much money they have plastic surgeons…for their fish? Or where heated towel racks and floors are passé—what you really need are copper warming racks for your clothes so you’re not touched by a morning chill. While this kind of thing sounds unreal, Kwan swears it is all too true. Which means being his research assistant for whatever he does next is now on my bucket list.
Any and all of this makes for wickedly extravagant reading, but it is the fact that Kwan never breaks stride in his ability to capture the personas of people for whom money is an abstract concept. Even social upstart Kitty is already so insulated she can toss off one-liners like
Do you know how many people would sell their servants’ organs for this opportunity?
Equally as mesmerizing as Kwan’s descriptions of houses, clothes, jewelry, art and cars are his drool-worthy references to Asian food. In Rich People Problems it is especially enticing because much of the novel takes place at Tyersall Park and Su Yi’s chef is known to be one of the greatest in all of Asia. She conjures up unheard of delicacies like pumpkin and prawn noodle soup, lor mai kai (steamed rice with chicken in a lotus leaf wrap) and pineapple tarts on a moment’s notice. This is not a novel to be read on an empty stomach.
If you haven’t read the series’ previous novels don’t despair. Yes, they are a platinum chain linking a fantastical world full of schemes, drama and crazy stupid amounts of money, but each stands on its own. You should read them all, but don’t let being a newbie keep you from the unmitigated delight of reading Rich People Problems. My only issue with Kwan? This would appear to be it for the Crazy Rich Asians series and that is wretchedly depressing. Still, don’t waste a moment—given the lunacy of real-life America right now you need this perfect, outrageous antidote. Buy it and step out of our world and into one of frothy, fantastic fun.