The title of Kevin Kwan’s debut novel is pretty interesting. Is the book about Asians that are both crazy and rich, or is it about Asians that are not only rich but CRAZY rich? I’d argue that there’s a little bit of both in Crazy Rich Asians.
There are a LOT of names to keep track of in Crazy Rich Asians. The reader needs to keep track of a lot of people from three interconnected branches of an old-money Singapore family. Thankfully, there’s a family tree at the beginning of the book. Nicholas Young and Astrid Leong are the ones most in the spotlight. The story centers around Nicholas and his girlfriend Rachel Chu. Nicholas’ friend Colin Khoo is going to get married, with Nicholas being his best man. Nicholas decides that the time is right to bring Rachel to Singapore to meet his family. However, Rachel has no idea that Nicholas is in line to inherit one of the largest fortunes in Asia, maybe even the world.
I would describe Crazy Rich Asians as reality television in book form. The vast majority of the entertainment I got was from watching the ridiculous antics of the family. It’s incredibly entertaining experiencing the family fight and gossip and go about their crazy rich lives. That being said, they are OBNOXIOUS. Any preconceived notion that one may go into this book with about the ultra-rich will be pretty much personified in this book. Some of the Crazy Rich Asians are tolerable, like Astrid, Nicholas, and their cousin Alistair. Some of them just made me angry and kind of sad. While Nicholas’ family is kind to Rachel at first, She quickly finds that she’s not welcome as a permanent member of the family. From the moment that Nicholas’ mother Eleanor finds out about Rachel, she plots a way to break them apart so he can be with a “proper” girl. That means someone from money, not a descendant of peasants from mainland China.
Crazy Rich Asians starts as a fun, entertaining book, but it got serious pretty quickly. The tactics that Eleanor orchestrates to drive Rachel and Nicholas apart. Her cruelty and that of the other members of the Young, Shang, and T’Sien families escalates swiftly and painfully for Rachel. It comes as something of a punch to the gut for the reader.
The biggest criticism that I would have towards Crazy Rich Asians is the shift in the format in part three. There are a few extended internal monologues consisting of multiple paragraphs of italic text showing a character’s thoughts. This wouldn’t be a problem if Kwan had used these monologues through the book. Instead, they seemed like a strange decision for a small section of the book.
Additionally, there is a plot point between Rachel and her mother that frankly comes out of nowhere. There isn’t any foreshadowing or buildup to a major revelation that I can’t discuss without spoiling it. But regardless, it feels like Kwan decided to experiment in the final third of Crazy Rich Asians, which creates a few awkward and abrupt moments.
Still, overall I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians. I found it to be incredibly entertaining and fun. I quickly found characters to sympathize with and attach to. Aside from the weird format change towards the end, I thought that it was well written. It did have that odd perspective jumping that I discussed in Pachinko but I think it wasn’t as jarring since this only takes place over the course of a couple weeks, not a couple of generations. If the story sounds interesting, I think it is worth a read. As of writing this post, I haven’t seen the movie adaptation, but I’ll write a post on that as soon as I do.