Kevin Kwan’s CRAZY RICH ASIANS TRILOGY focuses on a segment of the uber-rich many of us in the U.S. have rarely thought about—the extremely wealthy Chinese and Southeast Asians.
But that’s all changed now: rich Asians are very much part of our public awareness. You can credit that to Kwan’s best-selling books, especially the first, which was released as a film this year—becoming a major box office hit and garnering a ton of popping eyeballs.
To give you an idea of just how wealthy Kwan’s characters are, consider that they’re billionaires. Any lesser amount—even a few hundred million—is pooh-poohed: to live on such a paltry sum is, well … “not comfortable enough.” Or consider this: one young character has her own jet, complete with a spa and fully-installed Jacuzzi—just right for shopping trips (not unheard of in real life).
Speaking of shopping, in all three books luxury goods fly off the shelves into the hands of the characters, who are possessed by an all-consuming (yes, a pun!) obsession for name-brand items—everything from jewelry and watches to shoes and clothes—complete with designer name-dropping. Any single item can cost tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars. Kwan’s characters are so ludicrous you’re convinced they have more money than common sense. But this is the precise target of Kwan’s satire.
Crazy Rich Asians, the first and titular book of the series, features a Cinderella romance—the son of one of the wealthiest families in the world falls in love with a young woman from the other side of the landing strip. Meet Nick Young and Rachel Chu. The plot includes the standard fairy-tale tropes: the “not-our-kind, dear” snobbery on the part of Nick’s family, along with the usual “mean girls” backbiting, intent on making Rachel’s life a living hell. Add Nick’s wealthy ex-girlfriend determined to win him back, and finally toss in an embarrassing secret Rachel must hide at all costs.
China Rich Girlfriend, book two, picks up with the “embarrassing secret” that Rachel Chu guards so closely in book one. The secret won’t be divulged here: it would be a plot spoiler for the first two books. Suffice it to say that Rachel is not who we think she is. In this second book, Rachel and Nick have patched up their relationship, and the two are planning their wedding.
Book three, Rich People’s Problems, opens several years after Rachel and Nick have married. Nick’s grandmother Su Yi is now close to death, and the book focuses on the scramble of family members to position themselves favorably and inherit as much of her wealth as possible. But Nick, having cut off all contact because of his grandmother’s stubborn refusal to accept Rachel, is forbidden from seeing her, even just to say his goodbyes.
An intriguing subplot running throughout the series involves the fate of another “outsider” in the Young family—Michael, the husband of Nick’s cousin Astrid. Astrid is the envy of all the women in her circle: a stunning beauty who has has scores of admirers throughout much of Asia. But Michael, who is every bit as bright—though nowhere near as wealthy—as the other members of Astrid’s family, insists that the two live a more “modest” lifestyle, one within his budget.
Oh dear.… This leaves Astrid with a mere 3 or 4 rooms to store her clothes—instead of the several, far vaster rooms she would normally be entitled to. With so few (and such small) rooms, Astrid finds it difficult to navigate the closely packed racks to find the exact outfit she wants. Meanwhile, Michael, a good guy, flounders as he gamely tries to negotiate the pitfalls of a financial world that shuts him out. His love for Astrid isn’t enough to gain him entry. But things turn around for Michael in book two. Overall, the long arc of Michael’s story reveals the humiliation of not having enough money—and the corrupting influence of having too much.
All in all, if you want a fun love story with outrageously drawn characters and an entrance into the lifestyles of the obscenely rich, this series is for you. It’s a rollicking ride as long as you aren’t looking for something serious, by which I mean that, while playfully satirical, the trilogy is no scathing commentary on people who are wealthy enough to own entire islands—yet squabble over inheritances like kindergartners over the last piece of candy. Kwan has received some criticism on this score, so reader beware.
HOWEVER, if you enjoy the guilty pleasures of pure, unadulterated Chic Lit—and many of us do—then go-ahead, pick up the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy … and indulge yourself.
Cara Kless Cara spent 10 years as a Library Reader’s Advisor in between performing with a belly dance troupe and teaching dance classes. She prefers Swinburne to Shelley, Faulkner to Hemingway, and can be found on most rainy days curled up with a good book and a cup of earl gray, hot.