- What: Rich People Problems
- Who: Kevin Kwan
- Pages: 541, soft cover
- Genre: Contemporary fiction
- Published: 2017
- The lit: of 5 flames
Every so often I come across a book that I just can.not.put.down.
Kevin Kwan had already given me one of those masterpieces in the first book of his showstopping series, Crazy Rich Asians. After feeling slightly disappointed with the sequel, Kwan lifted me back up in a triumph that completely took over one weekend.
You’re batting .667, Kwan, which is not too shabby.
Rich People Problems is a culmination of everything great about its predecessors: crazy characters, hilarious encounters, jaw-dropping money, exquisite details, twisting plots, and did I say jaw-dropping money? It’s almost as if Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend were the opening acts for this grand finale that possesses all the signs of a classic.
Nicholas Young hasn’t had the easiest time these past five years, and that partly stems from his grandmother (among slightly psychotic relatives), Su Yi, who has fallen to her deathbed. Even though Nick hasn’t forgiven his grandmother for showing the utmost disrespect to his now-wife, Rachel, before they were engaged, he can’t help feel a sense of duty to her and longing to be near her in her final days. So he flies back to Singapore just as the problems are ramping up.
As you know, Su Yi lives in one of the most majestic mansions and on the most coveted estate — Tyersall Park — in Singapore. Her net worth? *whistles* Nobody knows exactly how much Ah Ma is worth, but everyone knows they want a piece of that pie.
Except Nick. He’s much too moral and wholesome to care about the dolla signs.
“It amazes me that there’s still such a huge stigma about mental illness here. ‘Stigma’ implies that something exists but society is prejudiced against it. Here, everyone’s in denial that it even exists!” — Nick in Rich People Problems (See what I mean about young Nicholas?)
The Shang-Young clan doesn’t stop their antics to become the favorite heir until well after Su Yi takes her final breath. Along the way, Kwan illustrates the beauty of family and how even our loved ones can hide the best-kept secrets.
These secrets are the first clue that Kwan has crafted gold in Rich People Problems. I won’t blab all the gossip that comes out of Tyersall Park in the end, but Kwan keeps you guessing and completely at his will to know what’s coming next. Let’s just say we already knew Su Yi was somewhat of a bad ass — even if her traditional ways can at times be infuriating — but the hidden influence she’s had over an entire continent will blow you away. Her years of experience, love, and hardship have sculpted her into a woman who may just have good reason for every decision she’s made.
“Scientists talk about how we inherit health issues from our parents through our genes, but we also inherit this entire lineage of fear and pain — generations of it.” — cue the Joanne feelings in Rich People Problems.
Kwan weaves in these plot twists so well that the book never feels disconnected, which isn’t an easy feat. Just because the characters are always jet-setting around the globe doesn’t mean the story arc has to take that same approach. His writing is seamless, leading you to surprises naturally yet shockingly.
It’s these plot twists that will keep this book glued to your hands until the last page. I can testify to that and will argue that they make the third installment of Kwan’s mega trilogy the best of the bunch. China Rich Girlfriend was fun but a bit much, and Crazy Rich Asians was near perfect. Book one had a different purpose than number three though; it served as an introduction into this world. We had countless characters to meet and settings to be set. By the time you get to Rich People Problems, the foundation has been laid, allowing Kwan to move creatively throughout the plot. Fortunately for us, he didn’t let us down with this opportunity.
Let’s be real though: This intoxicating series wouldn’t be what it is without the embellished details that make Kwan an epic writer. He never holds back, and his characters always go too far. They are unapologetically over the top, and the writing perfectly matches this level.
“Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.” — Rich People Problems
This unmerciful richness equals the level of Asian-ness these characters possess.
“Probably for the very first time [in pop culture], these empowered, authentic characters live within their purely Asian world, and none of the usual stereotypes are part of the mainstream discussion,” wrote Slate‘s Yoonj Kim in her 2017 review.
It’s refreshing and a necessary cultural change for a novel to be so far removed from the white. Kwan’s success of an Asian epic contests the strongly held belief that the world revolves around white Americans. He wins.
“I made my money the old-fashioned way. I was very nice to a wealthy relative right before he died.” — Uncle Malcolm in Rich People Problems
That’s also part of the fun. Sure, the small subset of ultra rich doesn’t represent all Asians, but learning of various customs that are different from your own is intriguing. (Not to mention it intensifies your wanderlust because how could you not want to visit Singapore after reading this series?) At the same time, it’s familiar because no matter where you live, your heritage, or your net worth, we all have family drama; we all seek love and forgiveness; and despite the craziness, we need each other.
Somehow Kwan accomplishes all of this in a series and especially in Rich People Problems. We owe him one. Or two or three.