Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Photo from bookclubchat.com (Source: https://bit.ly/2HFUekX)

Money does make the world go round

In the Philippines, you’d easily spot those who are truly wealthy – and they would call themselves as comfortable, but being rich isn’t enough. More than money, you need connections that many people don’t have, powers that one would never think exist, and a handful of attitude to carry everything out. Who would have thought that being rich can get really crazy? This is everything summed up on Kevin Kwan‘s Crazy Rich Asians, his first book from the trilogy.

The crazy story all started with Rachel, a Chinese-American, NYU economics professor, and Nick, an Oxford-educated bachelor and a professor by profession, planning a getaway “to the east.” “Like Queens?” Rachel asked, but Nick had other things in mind. He wanted his family to meet Rachel. He felt it was about time after dating for more than two years. Besides, it would be the wedding of his best friend, Collin, where he’d be the best man and he wouldn’t want to miss that once in a lifetime chance. All along, Rachel thought everything would be smooth sailing but not until she finds out that her boyfriend is an heir to a massive fortune in Singapore.

Character roll call

A lot of names were mentioned but here are some of the notable characters that have stood out from the rest:

  • Nick’s Ah Ma (grandmother), Shang Su Yi, whose mansion is beyond imaginable, guarded by Gurkha army men, and has been well visited by various heads of states and their respective delegates because she is that powerful. Her fortune is what you’d call as the old money in Asia because their family, both goes for the Shang and the Young, have been rich for many decades (and even centuries) already;
  • Nick’s lovely cousin – 2nd cousin, if that makes any difference at all – Astrid Leong, a free-spited, sophisticated lady who adores Rachel right after meeting her. She has more than 40 high-end real estate properties across Singapore and Asia and shops for all haute couture in sight. She’s the fashion goddess, somebody who is influential in the fashion scene for the young women in Singapore. With oozing hot Michael Teo, an ex-Army man who now serves as the CEO of a tech company, as her husband, they form a formidable couple that most people would get envious with;
  • Rachel’s college best friend, a “trust funded” lady from Singapore who she hasn’t seen in a very long time and whose family is into the construction business, Goh Peik Lin. She was not just Rachel’s best friend. She could even pass as Rachel’s fairy godmother. From getting her stunning but not revealing clothes, letting her stay in their lovely mansion after her hiccup with Nick, to even bringing Rachel all the way to the Tyersall Park for the family dinner hosted by Nick’s Ah Ma. I wish we could all have a Peik Lin in our life;
  • The ‘wedding of the century’ couple, Araminta Lee, a supermodel icon and daughter of Annabel Lee, a renowned hotelier in Singapore and across Asia, and Collin Khoo, Nick’s childhood best friend whose family owns the hotel where Rachel and Nick would stay for the wedding. It was Rachel’s first time to meet the lovely couple when they picked them up at the airport and had Chicken Satay for dinner at this famous Newton Food Center (Hawker Center). It was clear that both Araminta and Collin loved Rachel immediately with the way they welcomed her in Singapore;
  • Oliver T’sien, Nick’s 2nd cousin from the T’sien side. He was the one who made sure Rachel would know who she needs to and she does not need to trust in the crazy clan of theirs. It was not a surprise when he instantly liked Rachel but had to do his job to diss Kitty Pong, a soap opera star in Hong Kong and the fiancée of Alistair Cheng, another 2nd cousin of Nick, simply because she would never be a good addition to their family. Oliver was frank and would know his worth more than anyone else in the family, albeit not a crass;
  • Dr. Gu was not someone you’d notice until you’re more than halfway through the book. He’s described as a link to a forgotten world where being rich wasn’t just defined by money. Why is he important? The way he remembered Nick’s grandfather, Sir James Young, was as if money and power never have existed. Nick’s grandfather spared his life during World War Two. This proved that being wealthy is not just about accumulating so much money because there is a world beyond that;
  • Then there’s Eleanor Young, Nick’s mother and married to Philip Young, one of the wealthiest men in Asia. She does not joke around. When she has her eyes on the prize, she’ll make sure to get it no matter what. Eleanor is how you’d picture out a rich lady who cared about who Nick would date, even going as far as Shenzhen with her friends to investigate on Rachel’s background.

Okay, here we go

The first thing you’d notice from the book would be the luxury brands, but the thing is these rich people do not chase these big names. One particular instance of this was Astrid’s private shopping for jewelry in Stephen Chia. Mind you, those weren’t just regular jewelry but antique ones, even dating back to those of Chinese dynasties. A pair of earrings could pay a mortgage of two houses in Singapore. Another one was Eleanor and her friends who all went to Shenzhen to simply have a spa weekend, only to find themselves at the hidden shopping paradise for all overrun designer goods. A designer luggage  priced at $2500 will only cost $700 even if these are of the same quality. No one will ever forget that moment when Peik Lin brought Rachel to a shopping spree before the night of meeting Nick’s relatives at the Tyersall Park, the name of the mansion where Nick’s Ah Ma lives. Perhaps one reason to explain this habit of our rich friends is that they would always want to keep it low key. In fact, if you’d observe around you, Chinese or non-Chinese, those who are filthy rich wouldn’t even look like they are rich at all. I guess it has always been ‘less is more’ for them.

Speaking of less is more, I could never forget that moment when Eddie Cheng got shut down by his family. Eddie is the eldest son of Alexandra Young, youngest sibling of Felicity (Astrid’s mother) and Philip (Nick’s father) and Dr. Malcolm Cheng, a renowned heart surgeon who has this thing about protecting his hands and needed a chauffeur. Why do I have to mention this? Eddie wanted to fly from Hong Kong to Singapore with his whole family in a private plane – something that his best friend from Shanghai, Leo Ming, loaned to him. His family didn’t agree to avoid any issue and so as not to be a show off, but that’s what Eddie wants – fame, attention, paparazzi sprawling around him. To cut the story, Eddie is an ass, even when they were still kids. Up until the time when he married his wife, Fiona, and had kids, he has never been better. In fact, he just got worse. He is the living proof of how a rich kid could become a spoiled brat simply because his parents were well off. What prompted Eddie to be like this? He has this thing of comparing his family to that of his friends and couldn’t accept why his parents have always been cheap to him.

Another thing I’ve realized was that these rich people were not totally different from what an outsider does in life. They weren’t invincible after all. It was definitely shown when Astrid was having problems with Michael. Astrid caught Michael having an affair but only to find out it was not real, thanks to Astrid’s childhood love, Charlie Wu, a tech billionaire now based in Hong Kong, who flew Astrid the night after Araminta and Collin’s wedding from Singapore to Hong Kong because this was where Michael was seen with another woman and a boy. Even if Astrid’s character was a strong woman who could buy everything she wanted to, there’s also a weak side of her and that was her love for Michael. I knew she would be like this when she have already seen the dirty text message on Michael’s phone but wouldn’t want to confront him simply because she didn’t want any commotion before the wedding and that they’d appear as happy, formidable duo (or trio, if Cassian, their son, would be in the picture). I’ve learned that nothing could ever beat love, especially when one gets so blinded by it that they’d throw away whatever wrong doings their partner have committed. Did it really matter what others would say about her and her failed relationship with Michael? I guess it does if you’re coming from a prominent family like hers. But in reality, I don’t think it makes sense.

Kwan also gave a nice glimpse of the how complicated and how big the family tree, an extended one if I may say. Right from the start, I knew that it would be like that since it’s not new to most people that most of the Asian families do have huge family trees. I just had to mention this – even with non-Chinese families, we normally call elders as auntie or uncle, even if we’re not blood related, to show respect. But as what Oliver T’sien said, the honorific should be earned. Gone are the days when younger generation would simply say yes to everything that older people would say. Oliver even said that his auntie and uncle, Nancy and Dickie respectively, do not give a shit about him so why should he bother calling them that? Class!

What also spelled the difference was the kind of love that only a mother could give to their children. Whilst Kerry, Rachel’s mum, could be so jolly and candid, it wasn’t the same case with Eleanor, who does not show her emotions and makes sure she’d keep Rachel guessing for her next move. Kerry was so used to being western that she does not even care whether Nick comes from a family with good lineage. She simply wants Rachel to be happy, to be respectful of their culture, and for Nick to look after her only daughter well. Eleanor, however, could pass as the definition of how crazy an Asian mum could be – did an in-depth background investigation of Rachel Chu, flew off to Shenzhen so she could avoid meeting her for the very first time, took advises from people who are not even blood related to her, made sure she puts a stop to Nick and Rachel’s relationship… I definitely felt for the woman. Besides, I know she was simply doing her job to protect her son’s interest at all cost. However, to pin down all the blame to her is absurd, even if Nick’s dad did not even care who he dates at all and it was only Eleanor who’s trying to put a stop to what was going on with Nick and Rachel, because this reflected the cultural differences, albeit coming from the same Chinese background/race. I thought that Kwan brilliantly sewn these parts together so it would be easier for readers to understand how the Asian culture works, especially those who are coming from a conservative background. From an outsider’s perspective, this could result to a disaster because, really, what would you don’t like about Rachel Chu? She’s smart, always curious, prompt, and could speak Chinese, but from an Asian perspective, we have to understand that everyone is almost connected in the family that what the parents say (and even those from other relatives) matters.

What I’m saying is that…

Crazy Rich Asians movie poster
Crazy Rich Asians movie poster courtesy of IMDB (Source: https://imdb.to/2MHYynj)

It’s been more than 2 weeks since I had the chance to read the book, but I still couldn’t get over it. Aside from the urge to become rich, I thought that the book was a good eye opener to the rising consumerism and materialism in Asia. The book represented Asia not just a hub but a superpower; it is the melting pot and this is happening right before our eyes.

Moreover, it was not hard to connect with the story even if I don’t have a knight in shining armour like Nicholas Young, even if my family was not as rich as theirs, even if I don’t speak more than 3 languages just like them because of the way the story unfolded. I loved how Kwan described things and people and it made me feel that they truly exist. From describing how peaceful it was when Rachel and Nick headed to the Young’s vacation house in Malaysia, how the Tan Hua flowers bloomed beautifully at night but withered moments later, to the private island where Araminta, her friends, and Rachel went for the bachelorette party, I didn’t have to wonder if they truly exist or not because it was believable.

One pain point I did notice, however, was the spotlight on the other members of the family. I know, I should wait for the second book because they’d probably be there, but I was craving for more details about what the others do in life. I definitely liked how the story introduced some of the family members and their ongoing issues, but I was hoping to go on with more drama. Funny that I hate family drama in life but that’s what kept me hooked all throughout the book.

I also hoped Kwan could’ve explored more of Collin’s anxiety issues. It was a good topic to touch on because this isn’t a new thing with most Asian family members who would always felt pressured to do well in school, to get a high paying a job, to marry as soon as possible and have an offspring. I felt for Collin when Nick noticed he wasn’t really ready for anything bigger than his responsibility of being a bachelor. Collin said that whatever is good for the business is always good for the family, even if it would sacrifice his own happiness (this was of the merger of the Khoo and Lee families after his marriage with Araminta Lee). It was as if everything is a competition to these people and being ahead of the game is a must, but come to think of it, who do they have to compete with?

I really wonder what happens next after Rachel, Nick, Peik Lin, and Kerry, Rachel’s mum, went to the Marina Bay Sands to catch some famous Singapore Slings – did Fiona and Eddie make up after their misunderstanding? I hated Francesca, and I wonder what would happen to her once she finds out she was not the chosen one after all? What would be Eleanor’s reaction once she finds out Nick and Rachel would still end up marrying each other? How will Astrid be able to cope up with Michael moving out of their family If the answers are on the next book, China Rich Girlfriend, then I can’t wait to have my copy delivered soon in our house! X

**Here’s my reaction video/movie review on the Crazy Rich Asians movie – don’t forget to LIKE and SUBSCRIBE on my YouTube channel. Thanks! X