It is the time of the year when many of us are searching for one of the highlights of our year: the perfect summer read. I normally delve into my stacks of books to find what I will be enjoying on my warm Saturdays but I think this year I may have read a good summer novel a little early.
“Crazy Rich Asians” by Kevin Kwan is actually quite the interesting book. Its just light enough to be a great, guilty pleasure summer read but also delves into some major socioeconomic ideas without making the reader feel as though they are reading a textbook. All in all I loved the mix of social commentary, gossip column and love story aspects that made up this book.
“Crazy Rich Asians” focuses (mostly) on the main character Rachel who is invited to travel to Singapore with her long-time boyfriend for a wedding. This means she will be visiting his family home and meeting his family. Too bad she doesn’t know that these people make Donald Trump look like a temperamental child with a fiver. Rich doesn’t do these people justice to be honest but it is the best word I have for what they are.
Interspersed with small interludes from other characters involved in Nick’s family the reader gets a real view into the world of, well, crazy rich asians. It is interesting to read about Rachel’s encounters with some of these people and painful at time to see how closed off they can be to her because she is not from their world. Kwan’s story roller coasters between light hearted, gossipy and deep but does so quite skillfully so readers don’t feel like they are getting whiplash.
One of the biggest themes I noticed was how money defined so many of the people in this book. It provided a host of different personalities created from their reaction to money. These personality types can be categorized into three main groups
- Rich royalty:These people are so loaded they are essentially royalty in Asia and in some cases they are actually descended from old royalty that did good business after the monarchy faded out. However, they are also essentially invisible This group prides itself on being very fortuitous but never flaunting it (to a point). The more recent generations of people in this category were raised to never talk about money and never to show off how rich they were because it is seen as crass which I can respect. However this also means they are SUPER cruel when it comes to outsiders who are seen as being from a lower socioeconomic class join the family.
- The elegantly rich: This group is comprised of the people who also have loads of old family money but are able to flaunt it in style. This means new designer clothing each season but never being flashy. Characters in this group are classy about their spending going for well-known quality rather than attention grabbing. They are investing their riches into looking effortlessly valuable while adding to their stores at the same time. Often they appear as societal icons for fashion and business.
- The showy rich: A group made up of those who are either on the outer edges of a family with old money or have come into major money with business ventures that exploded over the past few years. Those individuals tend to be quite showy to say the least. This means buying major purchases like planes and yachts, spending excessively for big parties and needless luxuries (think Wolf of Wall Street style) and throwing money in people’s faces to show off their economic status. They also tend to be rather gluttonous when it comes to getting more money even if this means sacrificing love to marry someone with more money. These people are the types that tend to make readers sick with how shallow they are (Kwan does a good job of writing that part in, I hated Eddie).
Kwan did an amazing job of exploring the different personality types created by wealth in this side of the world all while showing how someone from a more “regular” lifestyle world might experience encountering such amazing wealth.
One other major aspect that Kwan explores is how money affects relationships whether people wanted it to or not. He looks at how familial loyalties are entrenched in the goal of being written into the will of their wealthy relative. He gives examples of relationships that mean nothing now because of one spouse’s obsession with social appearance or status. In another case we see how a difference in socioeconomic background can literally destroy a marriage because it so intensely affects one spouse’s pride and how they are viewed and treated as lesser. We even see how socioeconomic status affects Nick and Rachel in some intense ways. Like I said, “Crazy Rich Asians” does a great job of social commentary but it quite subtle about doing it.
To say the least I was impressed by this book. It kept me involved, invested me in the characters, made me want to kick the shit out of other characters, gave me a little guilty pleasure in the more gossipy moments, and gave me a love story that was realistic that I could root for. I give Kwan major kudos for this novel though I curse him for leaving it on a romantic cliffhanger which has left me looking to hunt down book two of what turned out to be a trilogy. I was not forewarned about this but it is not stopping me from harassing my local library.
Written by Brianna Gibbons, writer, book reviewer and avid reader. For more book-based talk, follow her on Twitter @Bookworm_ish.