Book review: Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 July, 2015, 5:03pm

Crazy Rich Asians

by Kevin Kwan

Double Day

This is an entertaining and well-written book about the life of the Chinese super-rich, a new class who are keeping alive five-star hotels, restaurants and luxury shops around the world.

It is the first novel by Kevin Kwan, who was born in Singapore and lives in Manhattan. He studied at Parsons School of Design in New York, where his first course was fashion photography. The publisher describes him as a "creative consultant to publishers and authors as a specialist in celebrity and visually driven projects".

The novel is set in Singapore, the birthplace of the main character, Nick Young. For two years, he has been living in Greenwich Village, dating Rachel Chu, a professor of economics at New York University. She comes from a wealthy Taipei family who made their money in plastics.

He invites her home to Singapore because he is going to be the best man at his friend's wedding. After they arrive, Rachel discovers the complex and scheming world from which her boyfriend comes - how different from the simple life they enjoy in New York, far from their two families.

The wealth of the book is in the detail - of the personalities, the places, the clothes and the colours of Singapore, Kwan's native place.

One of the main characters is Eleanor, Nick's mother. "Like most of the women in her world, she could meet another Asian anywhere in the world - say, over dim sum at Royal China in London or shopping in the lingerie department of David Jones in Sydney - and within 30 seconds of learning their name and where they lived … would calculate precisely where they stood in her constellation", including their wealth, its source and the family scandals of the past 50 years.

Nick is best man for the marriage of his friend, Colin Khoo, to the daughter of a wealthy Chinese. "You know this merger has been choreographed down to the most minute detail," Colin tells him with an air of resignation. "It's good for business and anything that's good for business is good for the family … I have not been in the position to make a single choice since I was born, and you know that."

Rachel is in for a shock. She discovers that Nick's mother has very exact ideas about who her son should be marrying and that the sweet history professor she knew in New York is a rich heir coveted by an army of ambitious socialites.

Kwan describes well the lifestyle of the super-rich, their extravagant houses, their love of food, their enormous wardrobes and the plans of the older generation to retain their wealth.

It's a world of private schools and universities that must be brand names just like the clothes they buy and the hotels they stay in. The different characters are carefully drawn and the dialogue convincing. The plot also takes in the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau.

The love story has an unexpected ending - enjoy the read.