Side note: I'm currently in California for the first time EVER on a business trip for my internship, involving a trip to Disneyland and later LA! Keep up with me on instagram and twitter @harperyi!
The BasicsThe book is about Rachel Chu, a 32 year-old Economics professor, ABC (American-Born Chinese), and current girlfriend to Nick Young, another professor at her university also in his thirties. They've been together for a while, and now that his best friend from back home in Singapore is getting married, he's flying back home and taking Rachel with him.
Unbeknownst to Rachel, however, Nick is rich. Really rich. Obscenely rich. Offensively rich. His family is old money in Singapore, and Rachel has no idea. She's only ever met one member of his family, his cousin, Astrid Leong, and he's kept her in the dark about his childhood and family affairs having been raised to keep family matters intensely private. Now that Nick's best friend, Colin Khoo, is getting married, Nick is the most eligible bachelor in Singapore-- and Rachel has no idea that she is being tossed into the deep end with a bunch of piranhas. Between having to navigate a fiercely private family wary of gold-diggers and unworthy romantic interests and the mountain of jealous Singaporean women who grew up with Nick, Rachel is in way over her head. Adventures and madness ensue in this somewhat soapy romp through the metropolitan, glamorous, ruthless world of Singaporean high society.
Harper's ThoughtsI read the book in just over a day. Granted, that day was pretty much fully devoted to reading this book-- at the time I was in between having accepted an employment offer and starting my job, so I had plenty of time for leisure. It's really well-paced, and the characters are well-drawn and believable. There are a few clear villains, and one clear hero in Rachel, but everyone else has an excellent balance of flaws and virtues.
One of the things I really liked about this book is that you can really see where everyone's interests lie in this complicated web of players. I'll admit, it can be hard to keep the family members straight from time to time (luckily there is a diagram of Nick's family tree in the front of the book) but for the most part, you see these different personalities and how they get tangled up in concerns over the Young family-- their money, their status, the potential for a power-grab. It's fascinating.
It's reminiscent of a lot of novels about an average girl getting caught up in a complicated web woven by "naughty rich people," but for once it's not about white people, which is really refreshing to me as an Asian American reader. There's a whole new spin on what's generally a very played out story. This book explores Asia in a way that goes beyond what we typically hear of Asia from the Western perspective. In general, Asian nations are depicted as generally very homogenous, xenophobic, and monolithic. Singapore, like many other islands in the Pacific, is actually very cosmopolitan, with blends of many different languages, ethnicities, cuisines, and peoples having lived there for centuries due to serving as a trading hub dating back before the American colonies were even founded. It challenges Western ideas of wealth and power, by forcing you to recognize that old money, Rockefeller-style money, is not just in the hands of old white families across Europe and the US. It challenges racist assumptions of where Asians can and can't be on the socioeconomic ladder. While in the West we talk about Asians being talented and smart, but ultimately barred from high ranking managerial roles (the bamboo ceiling), across the globe in a cultural climate where we're not out of our element, we run the world. There are some really great examples of East meets West clashes where westerners will assume one of the Singaporeans in the book is just a silly tourist, or arm candy to a wealthy white guy, and the moments when they are proven wrong are extremely satisfying-- that's what you get for being racist! But it's not just about those moments of vindication feeling satisfying-- it's also about examining racism as it still exists in the world today, even at the most exclusive places in the world.
I would also like to note that Rachel's one girl friend in Singapore who has never even heard of Nick Young (outside of being Rachel's boyfriend), Peik Lin, is amazing, and I love her. Peik Lin is also very rich (not like Nick is rich, but still a Crazy Rich Asian) but her family is very warm and has a teasing sort of sense of humor about them. Peik Lin was from the get-go a good friend, and stayed a good friend, and I think that it's so wonderful. There are a lot of things in the book she did which could have been done for bad reasons, to go after Nick or ingratiate herself with the wealthiest family in Singapore, but she always had Rachel's best interests in mind. She reminded me of Charlotte LeBouf's character in Princess and The Frog. As ridiculous as her spending was, as privileged as she grew up, she always put her friendship first, and a lot of times I felt myself almost expecting her to ditch her friend to pursue more riches still, since many of the other women in the book were constantly at Rachel's throat. Snaps to Peik Lin for being that female character who valued friendship above all else-- and didn't think that way because of nor in spite of her wealth.
This book is a lot of fun, with characters who are big, but still very real. Kwan didn't write any of the characters with the intent to exaggerate-- rather with the hope of showing extremes that exist in real life. I wouldn't call this a comedy, which is what a lot of critics are calling it and gives me the impression that they are speaking as outsiders of Asian culture, assuming things are exaggerated or blown out of proportion for laughs. Sure, it's funny, but that doesn't make it a comedy, as it centers at heart around a couple being tested by money, power, family, expectation, and jealousy.
Overall, I had a great time reading this book, and Kwan masterfully created just enough closure for a satisfying ending, while leaving just enough loose ends and brewing controversy to make me hungry for the sequel! Read this book!
Harper's Rating: 5/5
Asian stories, authentic Asian voices and characters, decentering whiteness
Explore the glamour and culture of Singapore through the eyes of both the really wealthy, and the average ABC
Intriguing, broad cast of characters
A great story about a tangled web of love, power, and money
Punctuations of explicit sexual detail. Not necessarily a con, but those with delicate sensibilities have been warned of short spurts of sexual content.
Would probably leave this for those age 14 and up, due to mature scenes both sexual and violent.
Content warning for domestic abuse (not gratuitous, but explicit enough to warrant a warning)