Is there anything better than summer reading?
As a former avid reader who now barely has the time to pick up a book from her significant bedside table pile (it’s becoming a problem), I love summer. Summer vacations are the one time out of the year where I can hide away my phone, go to the beach and just read.
(Also, I don’t particularly like most beach related activities, so reading is the one thing that makes the beach bearable.)
My favorite reading this summer?
Crazy Rich Asians? Aren’t you half a decade too late to be reviewing this book, Sara?
First things first, yes, I am aware that this book is not new; it was first published all the way back in 2013, but it never really made it to my small south European country (a lot of things don’t, more on that later). I became vaguely aware of the title when the rights were bought and a movie adaptation began to be made, but I still wasn’t curious enough to look it up.
A couple of weeks ago, I was checking movie premiere dates for my country and lo and behold, the Crazy Rich Asians movie was premiering on August 15th.
A fun summer rom-com starring Constance Wu (who is my favorite part about Fresh Off the Boat), in beautiful locations, with a full Asian cast? Count me in!
As an impatient person who doesn’t like to wait but does like to torture herself by reading books that she knows will never be faithfully reproduced on screen, I bought the Crazy Rich Asians immediately and took it with me on my beach vacation.
A (spoiler-free) review was inevitable.
What is Crazy Rich Asians?
From the author Kevin Kwan’s website:
“Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.
When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she’ll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back.
Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick’s formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should–and should not–marry. Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider’s look at the Asian JetSet; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese; and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.”
This book is for you if:
1. You like to read about luxurious lives and fantastical characters;
This book is, at its core, about luxury. Rachel Chu is a stand-in for the reader, dumbfounded and unprepared for the sheer level of opulence that old (and new) wealthy Chinese families throw around like it’s nothing. We get to read about intricate family dynamics (the book comes with a handy family tree that spans two pages), houses that don’t show up on Google maps, and the lives of people who are obsessed with power and image.
Think Gossip Girl times 10 with more likable main characters in Singapore and you have Crazy Rich Asians.
2. You have an interest in food;
If money comes first, food is a close second in this book and in the characters’ lives. The book states that arguing about food and eating are the national past times, and I fully believe it. Singapore cuisine seems to be the definition of Asian fusion, mixing Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian, and even European influences in mouth-watering ways. Satay, char kuay teow, rojak, there is not a dish in this book that does not sound delicious.
I have never wanted to go to Singapore before (it takes two flights and around 15 hours to get there from my country) and but this book made me want to plan a trip there immediately (I already know what airlines fly there) if nothing else then so I can eat EVERYTHING. The foodie in me was fully awakened by this book and yours will too.
(A part of me really wants to get an Asian fusion cookbook and go nuts but I also know that there’s no way I can get most of the ingredients so I’d just be setting myself up for disappointment.)
3. You enjoy fun, light books.
Crazy Rich Asians is well written, flows beautifully and is endlessly entertaining. If that’s your type of book, then pick it up without hesitation.
This book is not for you if:
1. You cringe at excessive luxury and wealth being tossed around like it’s nothing;
Seriously, excessive is the key word here. If reading about 40 million dollar weddings and 200 thousand dollar dresses (bought by the dozen) puts you off, then come nowhere near this book. Like the characters themselves say, they’re not just rich, they’re crazy rich.
(It gets tiresome after a while.)
2. You can’t handle point of view shifts;
This is possibly one of the only downfalls of the book for me. Crazy Rich Asians isn’t just from Rachel’s point of view, it’s from everyone’s. Written in the third person but from someone’s perspective, each chapter is dedicated to a rotating cast of characters, so you can see how they perceive each situation. It’s an interesting approach, but halfway through I found myself not caring about these tertiary characters I’ll only get a glimpse of once and never see again.
Who cares what the mother of a character that gets all of two lines the entire book thinks about something? (Read: not me.)
3. You like your books to have one storyline.
Related to the previous point, this book isn’t just about Rachel’s journey meeting Nick’s family and not fitting in, it’s about the individual stories of people from all three branches of the family and their friends, and how they ultimately intersect. This book is about Rachel and Nick, but also Eleanor’s machinations, Astrid’s marriage, Eddie’s image obsession, Colin and Araminta’s wedding, Peik Lin’s family finding out that there are things they don’t know about their own island. There are so many characters and so many plots, you might as well be reading the Asian War and Peace with pizzazz.
If you like a book that follows a single character and their story, stay away.
Was this book for me?
Saving Crazy Rich Asians for the beach alone and trying to go at it as slow as possible, I read this book in four sittings over the course of two days. If I hadn’t been keeping myself in check, I would have finished the 400-page tome in a single sitting.
Yes, the answer I’m trying to convey is yes. This book was very much for me!
Crazy Rich Asians at its core is the same old “look how rich people live” recipe in new shiny packaging: outlandish wealth, an outsider looking in, old money family dynamics, a major event that changes everything. It should be a paint by the numbers bore, but the deft writing of Kevin Kwan makes this book fresh and entertaining in a way I didn’t think possible. Clearly drawing from personal experience, he makes a large cast of characters feel authentic, fleshed out, like they all have their own lives and agendas and aren’t just secondary characters in another person’s life. Their adventures, crazy and comical, feel real.
(Side note: my favorite characters are extremely secondary bordering tertiary, Charlie and Peik Lin, and I hope they get decent screen time in the movie!)
The reading is light, the characters engaging, the brief glimpses of Chinese culture fascinating, and the action interesting enough that you can look past the predictableness of the twists because you’re having so much fun.
Not only do I recommend this book, but I already picked up the next one! (Expect another review up soon.)
P.s. The movie Crazy Rich Asians was pulled from distribution in my country in a very last minute fashion and I. Am. Fuming! There is no new premiere date and I’m legit incensed. Small country life strikes again!