Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians #1) by Kevin Kwan

I really liked this book, with one huge exception, which I’ll get to in a minute. It’s a very accurate depiction of life among the jetset in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, which I grew up lifestyle-adjacent to as an upper middle-class kid in Malaysia. Much has been written about how South and Southeast Asia have become the epicenter of Georgian-era, Austen-esque marriage plots in real life due to their structures of economies, class and morals, and Crazy Rich Asians continues in the tradition of exposing this fascinating lifestyle. Kevin Kwan nails the society to the wall, parading out perfect approximations of real-life people and taking the reader on an evocative and eerily accurate tour of their environs and lifestyles. He does all this with wit and style, making for a thoroughly entertaining read. Yes, it occasionally drags when he’s busy piling on brand name after brand name (and his Malay is definitely off) but overall the book is quite well-written, especially when it comes to Astrid and Charlie. I love Charlie so much, and I can’t wait to see Harry Shum Jr play him in the upcoming movie.

Speaking of the upcoming movie reminds me of my main problem with this book. Apparently, the studio floated the idea of having the ostensible heroine, Rachel, be a white girl instead of a Chinese-American. After reading this book, I honestly don’t think that was as offensive a suggestion as it is without context, since Rachel is such a basic bitch that it doesn’t even matter to the text if she’s Asian. Honestly, if I could trade her at Dave Chappelle’s Racial Draft, I totally would. Aside from her racial heritage meaning incredibly little to her (which, honestly, is the least of her problems,) she is AWFUL. She refuses to date Asian men on “principle” before meeting Nick; she admits that she doesn’t relate to most Asians, American or otherwise; she’s condescending to new people (seriously, I cringed at her responses to Araminta’s friendliness when they were first introduced); she’ll dump a guy over an ex-girlfriend from half his life ago; she says the shittiest things to the mom that she’s supposedly super close to: she’s such an asshole that we keep being told is “charming” and capable of adapting to new situations, when she’s clearly not. I agree that Nick should have told her beforehand that his family is really, really wealthy and private but I can understand why his upbringing made that really hard to do. What I can’t understand is why I’m supposed to like this nothing heroine who is a collection of attributes entirely devoid of being an interesting, much less charming, personality. I don’t understand why Nick likes her, and I don’t understand why Peik Lin is so kind to her (Peik Lin is also one of my favorite characters and I’m rather glad Mr Kwan did not turn her into a rival.) I can certainly understand why Eleanor dislikes her tho!

Anyway, I’m waiting on the sequels from the library and hoping that either Rachel gets better fast or that we’re spared more of her whining mediocrity. I want more Astrid and Charlie and Peik Lin and Oliver and Fiona and, quite frankly, Eleanor and Su Yin (I’m also interested in seeing how far Araminta will go with her newfound dislike of Astrid.) I’d be perfectly happy for Rachel and Nick to ride off into the sunset together so I don’t have to read about her any more, as long as I can keep reading about the rest of the actually interesting characters and settings and food (because also this book is literary food porn at its best.)

Oh! And for people not from the area who say Henry Golding shouldn’t play Nick because he’s not actually Chinese, you can go fuck yourselves. He’s an Asian guy indigenous to the region who’s lived most of his life there and you fuckers don’t understand how culture is as important as race when it comes to being a Singaporean or Malaysian. I am as proud to be American as I am proud to be Malaysian but I really hate it when morons from either side pontificate on shit they know nothing about. It is far, far more offensive to a SEAsian for some person not from the region to play a native than for a local to play a person of another local race. I understand that it’s different in the West and that’s fine, just don’t force your cultural sensibilities on others under the pretense of moral outrage: it’s a worse look than the book’s Shaw women’s tackiness.

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    • Toni on March 27, 2019 at 10:38 am
    • Reply

    Thank you! I have fallen down the rabbit hole of this series. I finally got a chance to see the movie and after that I decided I had to read the books to see what happens next. I have now spent two nights staying up way way too late because I am enjoying the books. I read your reviews when they first came out, but I am going to wait to re-read them until I have finished the books.
    I do agree with you about Rachel in the first book but since I saw the movie first I find that I am superimposing that Rachel over the book Rachel, sort of like there are details about her that just didn’t make it into the book. But the whole blow up with her mom does feel wrong. It is hard for me to imagine a highly educated woman who grew up close with her single mom would not give her the chance to tell her story. I could understand being upset as ‘Why didn’t you tell me before’ but when she accuses her mom of keeping her father from her and not listening to a woman who is saying ‘But you don’t know the whole story’ seems off. Maybe it is the time of #MeToo, but when a woman says ‘but you need to know the whole story’, you stop and listen, especially if it is your single parent who you grew very close to. And I say this as a woman who grew up not knowing my father or his family.
    I just started the second book last night and I can’t wait to read more about Astrid – I am even looking up some of the designers online just to get a better sense of her style.
    And I am SO hungry while reading. I am not very familiar with a lot of the food mentioned but damn! I want to try it all!

    1. I think a lot of the problem with Book Rachel is that she’s written by a man who has less experience than confidence in his portrayal of a modern Chinese-American woman. The movie portrayal of Rachel was heavily influenced both by the Malaysian Chinese scriptwriter as well as the Chinese-American actress, both women, and they toned down a loooooot of what was so problematic about Book Rachel. While one of this series’ strengths is Kevin Kwan’s eye for satire, his psychological insight tends to be more broad than deep. He’s great when depicting the surface behavior of large numbers of people, but far less persuasive when it comes to singling out individuals for further examination.

      Anyway, I hope you like the books! Also, trips to Malaysia (and Singapore, I guess, #snob) can be surprisingly cheap, with a strong exchange rate and lots of inexpensive, delicious food, if you’re so inclined :D.

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