Monday, January 27, 2014

#5 [2014-CBR6] "Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan

Rachel and Nick are professors in New York City who have been dating for about two years. When Nick invites Rachel to spend the summer with him in Singapore, she's excited to meet Nick's family and learn more about where he grew up. What she doesn't know is that Nick is from one of the richest, most powerful Asian families in the world. In the materialistic world of "crazy rich Asians," Nick is one of the most sought after bachelors and his every move is under intense scrutiny and judgment. Rachel wanders onto this scene completely unaware and unprepared for the wealth, opulence, and snobbery of this world.

Like many of the books I read these days, I learned about Crazy Rich Asians (2013) by Kevin Kwan through another Cannonball review. I forget exactly what piqued my interest, but after a long wait on the library's wait list, I was finally able to download the book.

At first, I was disappointed. After a promising first chapter, I was not overly impressed. The dialogue felt forced and amateurish with heavy use of unnecessary adverbs. The characters were flat and one dimensional: Nick was perfect, smart and good looking, and Rachel was pretty much the same. Rachel also giggled a lot. The premise of a fish out of water in this new, luxurious world was promising, but Rachel never really did anything besides look in awe at the incredibly expensive world around her. She never responded when people were mean to her and she never talked to Nick about anything important. When she finally reacts near the end of the book, it felt like it was too much. In addition, there was very little humanity or understanding of the "bad" characters. I really disliked almost everyone in the book, and even the "good" characters I disliked for being friends, or having anything to do, with all of those other horrible people.

Another issue I had with this book, was that I found the tone uneven. On the one hand, there is some condemnation of the snobbery and waste through Rachel and Nick's characters and their ideals. On the other hand: Kwan spends page after page glorying in the descriptions of the millions of dollars spent on couture clothing and jewelry, and how fantastic the "old money" Singaporeans are since they are so wealthy they don't need to flaunt their status. There was a hint of bragging about this world where materialism and status are more important than anything else--something I find extremely objectionable. And so it turned me off the book.

It didn't help that the author inserted himself into the story with a footnote discussing the school he attended. "Much of this had to do with the 1980 article in the Sunday Nation entitled "The Little Horrors of  ACS," which exposed the rampant snobbery among its pampered students. This led to a shamed principal announcing to stunned students (including this author) the very next morning during assembly that henceforth, students were no longer allowed to be dropped off at the front entrance by their chauffeurs." I was reading a story about a couple visiting Singapore. I didn't need a little note from the author saying, "Yeah, I went to that school." It took me completely out of the story, and I was irritated by the unnecessary name dropping. In my mind, that note immediately turned the author into one of the snobs that was annoying me so much in the story.

With all this whining and complaining, you'd think I didn't like this book, but the more I read, the more it grew on me. Once I got closer to the end of the book and things actually started happening, it was much more interesting. I also thought the descriptions of the wedding were beautiful and fascinating. When it ended, I still felt like there was more story to tell because Nick and Rebecca did not solve all of their problems. I also found the world Kwan described hard to forget. I knew almost nothing about Singapore before reading this book, and now I have the urge to learn more about it--with pictures of some of what Kwan was describing. I don't know if he wrote this planning a sequel, but I think if he did write one, I would read it.


Jen K said...

I've been wanting to read this because it sounds like it would just be a fun light novel. However, for that to work, you still need the main character to be likable even if everyone else is shallow and vapid. I'll make sure I go into this one with lowered expectations.

Book Blogger said...

The main characters were likable, although a little one dimensional and passive until the end. I hope you like it!