The More Money They Come Across…

There’s a scene near the beginning of Crazy Rich Asians when middle-class Rachel Chu walks into the family palace of her boyfriend, Nick Young. It’s her first experience with the supremely rich, and she’s presented with a silver bowl filled with water and rose petals:

“For your refreshment, miss,” [the servant] said.

“Do I drink this?” Rachel whispered to Nick.

“No, no, it’s for washing your hands,” Nick instructed.

Well obviously.

Two minutes later she’s taken aback by two stuffed native Singaporean tigers in the lobby. My parents also have stuffed game in their “entryway” … theirs just have white tails and antlers.

This is only the beginning of the lux that pours out of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel, Crazy Rich Asians. Kwan’s writing matches the extravagance of these Singaporean lifestyles without a lick of kitsch. If it feels over the top, that’s only because it’s in sync with the characters it describes. With all this opulence comes even more antics, drama, and insecurities (I hear ya, Biggie), but all of this proves to be hilarious, voyeuristic, and a thrill to read.

Crazy Rich Asians

When you hear “rich,” you might think of a summer vacation home, a Mercedes or two, and a few pairs of Christian Louboutins. You’re quite mistaken in this world. Kevin Kwan’s novel defines crazy rich as 15-20 different residences, private islands and jets (everybody’s got one), 2,000-sq.-ft. closets (yes, closets twice the size of my apartment), five designer outfits for 20 of your closest friends, and on and on and on.

“‘I have no idea who these people are. But I can tell you one thing — these people are richer than God.‘” — Peik Lin from Crazy Rich Asians

That’s the kind of lifestyle the characters of Crazy Rich Asians lead. The book follows several characters across three interconnected Singaporean families: the Youngs, Shangs, and T’Siens. At the beginning, we meet Rachel and Nick, two NYU professors who have been romantically involved for the past two years. With their summer vacation approaching, Nick invites Rachel to spend it with him in Asia after they attend his best friend’s wedding. Unbeknownst to Rachel, this is the wedding of the year that’s been talked about in all of the Asian society pages. Being part of such a spectacle can only mean you belong to the richest of the richest and have extremely high expectations of both objects and people.

Once they land in Singapore, Rachel begins to realize how much Nick has unintentionally left unsaid. In Nick’s defense, he was taught to be “modest” and has more faith in people than they deserve. He believes Rachel’s intelligence, wit, and warmth will be enough to win over his family; he doesn’t understand that your blood line and bank account are the only two things that get you acceptance in his family.

Rachel spends the rest of the book trying to comprehend the wealth and cruelty of Nick’s other world. You’re working middle class, honey. That won’t get you far.

“‘Just because some people actually work for their money doesn’t mean they are beneath you.'” — Nick from Crazy Rich Asians

Kwan gives us shock and awe in Crazy Rich Asians. He makes your jaw drop page after page, and he puts you in Rachel’s shoes. Just as she’s learning about this unfathomable world, so are we. Rachel is all of us — or least the ones who didn’t grow up in the upper upper class — the first time we saw a sneak of glitz and glam. Does this type of living actually exist?

“Mr. Kwan knows how to deliver guilty pleasures,” writes Janet Maslin in her New York Times review. “He keeps the repartee nicely outrageous, the excess wretched and the details wickedly delectable.”

That’s the beauty of Crazy Rich Asians and Kwan’s writing. He makes us love to hate these excessive characters, and although we despise their extravagance and negative attitude toward “lesser” folk, Kwan keeps us wanting more. He provides us with a high-quality page-turner all the way to the finish line.

“Astrid’s parents bought their children houses in a way other parents might buy them candy bars.” — Crazy Rich Asians

Throughout the novel, Kwan lends us little tidbits in the footnotes for us poorer folks and for those unfamiliar with Singaporean culture. As a native, he injects personal color to boost our understanding and drive home the points he’s trying to make. On many pages, he provides translations and descriptions of the decadent food. On another, he adds a footnote describing his own experience as a snob at an aforementioned all-boys school.

One friend noted the footnotes made it difficult to use an e-reader, but that just prompted her to buy the physical copy. The points Kwan makes in these footnotes are important and must not be skipped. They add fuel to the fire and give Kwan authority.

“With 1.5 billion eager gambles on the Mainland, the annual gambling revenue of Macau exceeds $20 billion — that’s three times more than what Las Vegas takes in every year. (Celine Dion, where are you?)” — a footnote in Crazy Rich Asians

There are many reasons why you should read Crazy Rich Asians as soon as possible. For one thing, a movie with the first all-Asian cast in 25 years will be released in August. You don’t want to miss out on the cultural conversations, do you? Furthermore, it’s the first of a three-part series, and the second and third novels will surely be reviewed on here.

It also has an “oh shit” plot twist and is comical, fun, over the top, witty, and everything you could want in a book, especially during the summer. Just go read it. Now.

3 thoughts on “The More Money They Come Across…

  1. Pingback: Back to that Material World | Big Little Literature

  2. Pingback: Toe to Toe: Crazy Rich Asians | Big Little Literature

  3. Pingback: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop | Big Little Literature

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