Araminta glided up the aisle, sneaking occasional peeks at her guests through her veil. She recognized friends, relatives, and many people she had only seen on television. Then she caught sight of Astrid. Imagine, Astrid Leong was at her wedding, and now they would be related through marriage. But wait a minute, that dress Astrid was wearing…wasn’t that the same blue Gaultier she had worn to Carol Tai’s Christian Helpers fashion benefit two months ago? As Araminta reached the altar where her future husband awaited, with the Bishop of Singapore in front of her and the most important people in Asia behind her, one thought alone crossed her mind: Astrid Leong, that damn bitch, couldn’t even be bothered to wear a new dress to her wedding.
Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan
Normally I try to pick a profound or insightful quote as the introduction to my reviews, but this was my favorite passage from Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians. To be honest, there’s nothing particularly profound or insightful about Crazy Rich Asians, but that’s beside the point. The book provides a glimpse into the lives of the super rich denizens of Singapore and beyond, and is thoroughly shallow and sinfully entertaining.
Crazy Rich Asians revolves around Rachel Chu, who envisions a carefree, relaxing vacation when she follows her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, back to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. Instead, she is nearly assaulted by the immense wealth of Nick’s family and acquaintances. Everyone knows each other, shops constantly, eats constantly, and is desperate to elevate their own status, whether through key business alliances or marriages. In a Shakespearean fashion, the drama revolves around the wedding of the season, while the narration records mundane activities in a mock epic fashion, reminiscent of The Rape of the Lock, or even Pride and Prejudice – except in Singapore, with Asians and dozens of exclusive brand names.
As far as characters go, Rachel and Nick are boring, and, for the most part, so is their storyline. Rachel, despite being beautiful, intelligent, kind, and humble, is incredibly dull. What I really enjoyed was Astrid’s storyline. I feel that as a society, we tend to villainize the astronomically rich (especially the children thereof, who’ve put no effort into acquiring their wealth). Astrid, despite her wealth and thoughtless spending, was the most sympathetic character in the novel. Unlike the other characters’ problems, I felt that her willingness to partially give up her life of luxury for her husband and her devastation at her husband’s affair were real, raw, and relatable.
Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed and identified with was Rachel’s inability to adapt to Singaporean culture. Like Rachel, I was born in Asia but moved to North America at a young age, and although I enjoy my visits back home, I can’t help feeling out of place and between cultures. And although I’ve never been to Singapore, I instantly recognized the obsession with status and excessive consumption from my visits back to Seoul. And as a resident of Vancouver, I was excited to see my city (and alma mater!) mentioned a few times.
Although this book is a fun, quick, and admittedly shallow read, I loved that it introduces readers to a side of Asia other than the stereotypical nerds and the immigrant struggle (although mentioned, it isn’t really a focal point). Despite the constant snippets of various Asian languages and references to delicious Singaporean street eats, the footnotes and Rachel’s role as an outsider (a stand-in for the unfamiliar reader) make it easy for any reader to understand what’s going on.
YES OR NO?: YES. I enjoyed this book and found it to be a quick, delightful read, although the ending (if you can call it that) is thoroughly dissatisfying. It feels as if the writer suddenly decided to stop writing and call it a day. There is a sequel, though, which I will definitely read once I get through the rest of my TBR pile. That being said, I do not think this book is for everyone – if you’re looking for a light read that’ll make your mouth water with descriptions of lavish feasts and even more lavish outfits, this is probably a great choice.