Book Review: China Rich Girlfriend

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Isn’t it all relative though? To someone living in a mud hut somewhere, isn’t the $200 you paid for those Rag & Bone jeans you’re wearing considered obscene? The woman buying that couture dress could argue it took a team of twelve seamstresses three months to create the garment, and they are all supporting their families by doing this. My mother wanted an exact re-creation on her bedroom ceiling of a Baroque fresco she saw at some palace in Germany. It cost her half a million dollars, but two artists from the Czech Republic worked on it every day for three months. One guy was able to buy and furnish a new house in Prague, while the other one sent his kid to Penn State. We all choose to spend our money in different ways, but at least we get to make that choice.

China Rich Girlfriend, by Kevin Kwan

China Rich Girlfriend is the sequel to 2013’s Crazy Rich Asians, continuing the story of Rachel Chu, an ordinary Chinese-American woman who becomes wrapped up in the world of her fiance’s ultra-rich Singaporean family. Two years after the events of the first novel, Rachel and Nick return to Asia for more family drama, insane shopping sprees, and casually luxurious travel, mainly by private jet. Most of the more important characters from the first novel make at least a few brief appearances (with my personal favorite, Astrid, again enjoying her own storyline), with more irresponsible heirs and heiresses tacked onto the cast.

China Rich Girlfriend is an entertaining read, and almost identical to its predecessor in its endless namedropping, fast-paced plot, and sometimes nonsensical plot twists. This time, the majority of the narrative takes place across Shanghai and Hong Kong instead of Singapore. While obviously decadent and satirical in nature, the novel does offer a somewhat serious peep into the lives of second generation ultra-rich mainland Chinese and their relationship with Hong Kong and the rest of the world. Living in Vancouver, it wasn’t difficult for me to relate to Rachel in her incredulity at the excessive spending habits of her new friends.

That being said, this isn’t a book to read if you’re looking for thought-provoking literature. One of the reviews on the back describes it as a “beach read”, and that’s exactly what it is: a light romp between tougher, more time-consuming reads. There’s really no need to read the first book to understand what’s going on. The characters are paper-thin, the dialogue laughably trite, and the prose itself anything but subtle: characters often say exactly what they mean, whether to each other or to through the narration itself. One could argue that Kwan specifically wrote the characters as childish and petty, to make a point about their shallowness. However, even the more grounded characters, namely Rachel, Nick, and Astrid, are dull and predictable, with as much emotional complexity as a character in a Michael Bay movie. Characters often giggle or grin at inappropriate times, and all of them seem to have the same sense of humor or reactions, whether rich or poor.

YES OR NO?: YES if you want a light read. The book is good for what it is, although I wouldn’t give out any awards for its characterization, its prose, or even its plot! So really, what is its selling point? Maybe the descriptions of delectable Asian food…

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