Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Main Takeaway
Modern Day Downton Abbey meets Joy Luck Club by way of Lifestyles of the Crazy Rich and Asian, Kevin Kwan crafts a fascinating fish out of water story, granting us a peek into the privileged life of how the 1%-ers in Asia live the grand life of high fashion, opulent homes, and family competitiveness (and dysfunction) that would fit right into a 90's sitcom.

Verdict:  it's a fun, breezy read.  I liked it but I would wait for the paperback or borrow it from the library

  • the first chapter pretty much sucks you into the world that Nick (one of the main character) lives in
  • incredible amount of details about the luxurious life of the "well off" in Singapore
  • interesting look at old money versus new money flowing through Asia, with China being its heart (sorry Japan ... maybe in the sequel?)
  • the Nick and Rachel characters (Rachel being the other main character) are likable enough but certainly aren't as interesting as the other characters (see last bullet point).  In a way, they're very reactive to everything that is happening around them
  • engaging look into how there are various degrees of richness among the rich, with those striving to become richer while others finding difficultly in becoming obscenely rich
  • lots of eccentric characters surrounding Nick and Rachel so that even if the main story drags a bit, these colorful characters are there to liven things up
  • despite the story taking place in Singapore, despite some name dropping of some of the restaurants and locales of where the rich live, shop and eat, the city itself isn't much of a character in the book, which is a bit of a shame.  I would have liked to have gotten a better understanding of Singapore, aside from a lot of rich people live there.
  • the narrative loses steam at the end.  Makes one wonder if there is going to be a second book: Crazier, Richer Asians
  • all of the bad people in the book are stereotypically bad; very one-dimensional.  If there was only more depth to each of the characters, which would have made the story far more engaging
  • despite being loaded with colorful characters, there are a lot of them to keep track of so at times, especially in the beginning, you wonder who are these people and how are they related (both to Nick but also to the storyline)
  • the set up is great (getting Rachel to go to the wedding with Nick) but somewhat unconvincing.  How can the Rachel not that that she's dating one of the wealthy men in the world?

Boy invites girl to boy's best friend's wedding, girl finds out that boyfriend is totally loaded but has dysfunctional family members. Hilarity ensues.  If one would be so lucky.  

More interesting than the premise to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Kevin Kwan's take on the high society of the obscenely rich and equally spoiled preparing for the big wedding of the protagonist's best friend is a great setup: you feel as though you're there with Rachel, as she bathes in all of the sheer opulence and unimaginable grandeur displayed by the ultra rich. Rachel, who is an American of Chinese descent, is from a middle class family so she's certainly overwhelmed by what not only by what she sees but who she encounters (from eccentric relatives to supportive but loaded best friends to haughty girls envious of her relationship with Nick).  Nick, the first born son to one of the richest families in all of Asia, is a good guy and tries to be supportive of Rachel but is too naive to realize how contemptuous his family (especially his mother) is conspiring to break up the two lovebirds. Tensions flare and the story spirals from satirizing the extent the rich would do for things (weddings, homes, food) to becoming a tired, cliched sit-com, complete with cartoonish mother holding all of the cards and exposing things to everyone.  Which is unfortunate because the story up to that point felt pretty solid.

Despite faltering towards the end, that shouldn't dissuade you from reading this book.  The whole ride that Nick and Rachel go through, from arriving into Singapore, eating the best satay in the world to attending the most obnoxiously over-the-top wedding, you're there for the ride and it's fun, despite the bumps at the end.

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