Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

In brief: Rachel’s boyfriend Nick asks her to come home to Singapore with him to attend a wedding. She never imagined that she’d suddenly be part of a very, very wealthy family – who doesn’t want her there.

The good: It’s over the top, crazy rich fun from the villains to the outfits.

The not-so-good: So many characters (hard to keep track of) and some glitches in the eBook version.

Why I chose it: It sounded really fun.

Year: 2013

Pages: 447 (eBook)

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Setting: Anywhere you can get to via private jet

My rating: 8 out of 10

I didn’t take much notice of this book when it was first released because I thought it was a non-fiction title about rich people in Asia. When I saw the crazy bling cover (gold glitter) in store, I realised that I was wrong. Crazy Rich Asians is a fiction book about a number of families in Singapore who are well, crazy rich. Apparently there’s rich (can buy anything in Louis Vuitton for example) and there’s the crazy rich (can buy LVMH). These crazy rich are somewhat unknown unlike their simply rich counterparts – they keep to themselves (even intermarrying between clans) and they don’t usually make the headlines/gossip pages.

The story starts when Nick, a university professor in New York, asks his steady girlfriend Rachel to come home to Singapore with him to attend his best friend’s wedding. Rachel’s an everyday sort of girl – she was brought up by her mother in America after the death of her father. She has an interest in clothes, but not really labels. Man, is she in for a shock.

Once Nick’s family hear that he’s bringing a girl home, the rumour mill goes into overdrive. Who is this ABC? (American born Chinese – though down here, it stands for Australian born Chinese – not a derogatory term, but used more as a descriptor – e.g. ‘This dish is ABC’ –ie. Not as good as what you can get in Singapore/Malaysia/Hong Kong). Is she one of the Taiwanese plastic heirs? Surely she couldn’t be someone without money?

Rachel’s indoctrination into this world is swift. Suddenly she requires couture clothes, a pedigree and nerves of steel to hang on to Nick. Even though many of the other family members have their own secrets (Divorce! Soap star girlfriends! Fanta spilled on cummerbunds!), Rachel is in for a very hard time as almost everyone is against her. Can she and Nick survive this crazy world?

I found Crazy Rich Asians an eye-opener. Being familiar with Singapore, I thought this would be about shopping a storm on Orchard Road, expensive restaurants at ION and five star hotels. But it’s way beyond this – this is about ateliers hidden in the suburbs, grand estates nobody knows about and jetting off anywhere on a whim – in your own jet. There wasn’t much that I knew, except for the hawker centre food. Does this crazy rich part of Singapore exist? I’m not sure (but I’m certain I wouldn’t be invited). However, it was still a fun, wild ride. This is like a ‘bonkbuster’ novel without the sex – it’s got glamour, money, style, fantastic food and luxury all over. The writing wasn’t stellar in its descriptions – this book is more about the plot that carefully constructed paragraphs describing a thought or a feeling. Still, it’s loads of fun. You never know what the characters will do next – such as finding themselves in a secret fake luxury bag store in China or delving into Rachel’s past to find a sordid secret. Some characters, such as Rachel and Nick are cleverly constructed, while others are broadly drawn as ‘the villain’, ‘the playboy’ or ‘the crazy mother in law’.

I read this book as an epub eBook, and I found that there were several small glitches that were workable, but annoying. The first was the family tree at the front – I couldn’t enlarge it at all to see how everyone was related (it seems to be an image rather than type, so changing font size didn’t help on ereader or on the reader app). The story does explain how everyone is related in time though. Second, most chapters have one or more footnotes explaining some part of the text, such as translating Hokkien swear words or explaining Singaporean foods. On the ereader, I needed to click on the asterisk to take me to the footnote, which would then take me to the end of the chapter. After reading the footnote, I couldn’t go back to the page I was reading without noting the page and doing ‘go to page…’. (The latter may be my ereader). Despite this, I think the footnotes were definitely useful – especially if you need to know how to insult someone in Hokkien/Cantonese/Mandarin!

I enjoyed this book for its crazy rich lifestyle – it’s an aspect of life I don’t think I’ll be seeing anytime soon, plus the book was brilliant fun.

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12 thoughts on “Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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  1. Interesting….I got the hardback copy from the publishers when it came out here a few months ago ….. And it has got lost in all the other review books I have! Maybe one day!

  2. This sounds like a good light read! I like reading about Asians because there don’t seem to be many Asian based/focused books, that aren’t all esoteric or about trying to overcome some hang up 😛

    1. I like reading contemporary Asian fiction, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot around. I’ve read some Catherine Lim and a couple of Malaysian/Singaporean chick lit books and enjoyed them, but I need more!

  3. Hi Sam, thanks for the review and the epub feedback, we have fixed the issue with the footnotes and are battling with the family tree to make it work better across various devices, so once the family tree is mastered we’ll be uploading a revised file which should be much better.

    Glad you liked the book, it’s a big staff fave here and the perfect beach read we reckon! Although it does make you rather hungry, we’re thankful for so much fantastic Asian food on our doorstep (which Kevin Kwan is also a fan of http://youtu.be/ur4SmhVOLq8?t=1m3s).

    1. Thank you Allen and Unwin!
      Definitely a perfect beach read – gold goes with everything!
      I am holding Kevin responsible for my first Hawker centre feast when I get off the plane in Singapore next – oh, and the champagne brunch!

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