Tuesday, March 07, 2017

[Books] Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan

If you were to ask what the perfect beach read is, Crazy Rich Asians might be my answer. It's a well worn story -- actually parallel stories. A woman is shocked by how rich her boyfriend is and how his rich and predatory relatives conspire to break them up. This goes hand in hand with an identical sub-plot but in this case the girl is the rich one. Along the way we are treated to excess in all things; an entertaining litany of lurid commercial voyeurism. The rich folks consistently exceed all limits of spending and one-upmanship, behaving in the way rich people do in the fevered dreams of envious poor folks. It all sounds a bit Jackie Collins-ish, and it is. Furthermore, it is amped up a bit because the moneyed folks are all Asians from Singapore, because that's where the rich still behave like "The Rich" of a glitzy bygone era in the West.

Nothing terrible happens, beyond standard issue rom-com tragedy; nice for a change not to have everything be of urgent importance to mankind. Within the scope of the trashy nature of the story, Kwan keeps the quality high. The prose is clear and smooth. Humorous relief is plentiful and well-timed. Even the Hollywood happy ending fits well. And Kwan does a good job of making it seem completely natural how the characters are trapped and threatened by their wealth -- that is to say, little seems emotionally contrived, which gives it an authentic feel.

How authentic it actually is with respect to Singaporean culture I couldn't say, but it feels realistic and Kwan is, after all, from Singapore. The influence of the West ripples throughout, from the characters names, to the fact that they attend a Methodist Church, to pop culture references, to the academies and educational institutions they value. That was of interest to me. In many ways these characters do not much care about staying in touch with their Chinese roots. It almost seems as though Singapore is an outpost of the Anglosphere.

Should you read Crazy Rich Asians. Unless you are dead set against reading for entertainment as opposed to enlightenment, I can't see why not. Get a copy for you next vacation. You may want to read it before it becomes a major motion picture, though. You can be ahead of the curve.