Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Crazy Rich Asians," by Kevin Kwan

“Crazy Rich Asians” (Doubleday, 2013), by Kevin Kwan, is an over-the-top immersion in the world of super-rich families of Chinese heritage in Singapore (and all the other places they live, vacation, and shop – from Paris to New York to Sydney to Shanghai and elsewhere). This novel is a compelling combination of glitz and glamor, soap opera, romance, and social commentary. My motivation for reading it was dual: part of me was drawn to the frou-frou fun of it all, and another part was interested in what the novel says about social class and privilege, something I research and write about in some of my academic publications. Although it is perhaps exaggerated (but maybe not?), it also rings true, and some of my own knowledge of wealthy Chinese students at U.S. universities, such as the one where I teach, corroborates at least some of the details of the portrait of extreme affluence. But the novel is not only about huge parties, private jets, and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on designer clothing. It is also about the power of the (relatively) old families who place strict expectations on their children and grandchildren about whom they may associate with and, especially, whom they may marry. When Nick, a young professor at an American university, invites his girlfriend, another young professor of Chinese heritage, to Singapore for the summer, she has no idea of the massive wealth he comes from there, nor of the strict traditions of his family. What follows, as we meet various members of the wealthy families, is a complicated dance of intrigue, pride, secrecy, and clashes between the old and the young, the old ways and the new. The novel is fascinating, and I can assure you that you will definitely not get bored reading it.

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